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The Path to a Dark NOC: Actionable Initiatives to Achieve Full Autonomy

Written By Joanna Smartwood
Oct 10, 2023

A Dark Network Operations Center (NOC) is one that runs with no IT staff … at least that’s how it’s been defined up until now.  

But there’s more to interpret.  

Large, complex networks rely on the NOC — the core of network infrastructure — to keep them healthy and resilient. The NOC’s function allows employees, customers, partners, and other network users to rest a bit easier, and its integrity and accuracy gives them peace of mind. It’s responsible for maintaining availability and operational continuity, playing a pivotal role in sustaining a company’s customer base and loyalty; therefore, optimizing the customer experience.   

The Dark NOC has evolved from the Traditional NOC, which monitors networks and infrastructures 24/7 and includes a team of skilled professionals. Traditional NOCs have played an intrinsic role in business network monitoring for decades, using a combination of software tools and manual processes to identify anomalies and respond to alerts as they occur. They’ve been the first line of defense for network security.  

RELATED BLOG: The NOC of the Future: What Businesses Must Know Now  

Most recently, growing demands for network performance and reliability have called for NOCs to become more proactive, and in many cases, they’re dealing with the paradox of having to do more with less. Investment in additional staff simply doesn’t cut it today, and it won’t set organizations up for success in the future.  

NOC operators can increase much-needed capacity by taking steps toward a Dark NOC, which include using automation to help carry out operational tasks and processes and having people come in only to make decisions. This step results in a reliable, high-performing connectivity that’s achieved consistently.  

Initiative 1: Jump-starting and Scaling Network Automation 

Gartner and other leading analysts agree that only about one-third of network operations are automated across all organizations. 

Those that haven’t yet automated NetOps tasks exist and operate in their silos and often work with their own toolsets and procedures. They also deal with multi-vendor, multi-domain complexities that make automation low on their priority list, but this lack of automation urgency is changing. 

Network automation should be a strategic initiative aside from the tactical automation scripts that might exist. NOC technicians often find themselves: 

  • Working through modified, unpredictable network traffic patterns 
  • Balancing managing network infrastructure complexity while rolling out complicated, demanding new technologies 
  • Managing alarms to stay ahead of potential outages 

Accurate automation of repetitive tasks can assume a day-to-day load, providing relief to IT technicians. Tasks such as provisioning and configuration, patching, and device checks, when automated, help them scale faster, get innovate, and drive process efficiency. 

How Proactive Network Automation Helps a Large CSP: A Real Example 

Not too long ago, one of Resolve’s customers, a large communications service provider (CSP), was battling cell tower outages that were causing major impacts for customers. The customer’s NOC needed a way to take control and get ahead of fighting outage issues, as its Tier 1 analysts couldn’t keep pace with 500,000 alarms coming in daily. 

The company was managing more than 57,000 cell towers at the time, so the NOC team decided to automate a set of complex testing procedures that would help determine the network’s health. Running these procedures consistently allowed them to verify mobile connectivity for their millions of subscribers. 

Fast-forward to today: An automated process polls the entire radio network every hour and compares any outages it identifies to existing tickets and events. It then automatically updates these tickets and generates validated events that are sent to the NOC for follow up. Additionally, complete coverage and outage reports are autogenerated and sent to each of the market owners, providing unprecedented and accurate visibility into real-time network health and performance. 

Initiative 2: Transforming Incident Response with Automation

Survival in today’s era of exploding, always-on pressure, digital transformation, and technological development requires proactive, innovative strategies for optimum speed and accuracy. Automation handles alarms and incidents behind the scenes, and sometimes, before a customer knows about them. Automation for incident response helps organizations maintain service level agreements (SLAs), automatically rule out false positives, quiet alarm noise, and much more. 

With enterprises necessitating connectivity 24/7, telco NOCs face arduous pressure maintaining optimal network performance. When disruption in normal service occurs in systems across the board, including those in banking, healthcare, traveling, shopping, and more, it impacts the relationship between telecom service providers and their customers. While telcos can’t afford to endure damaged relationships, some degree of minor, sporadic disruptions are unfortunately inevitable.  

NOCs are using IT automation more and more to transform incident response and resolution processes accordingly, including for purposes like avoiding escalations or delays by encoding systems access in the automation itself. As another step toward a Dark NOC, automating parts of incident response allows NOC operators to be hands-off and get involved only where it is absolutely necessary.  

For example, incidents involving device/card replacements do not require any NOC engagement and can be completely handled by automation and escalated to field technicians instead. In these instances, these processes become ‘fully automated’ and get them closer to achieving a Dark NOC.  

DOWNLOAD: In Pursuit of the Dark NOC: Transforming the Future of Network Operations 

Taking Significant Steps Toward a Dark NOC: A Real Example 

A leading provider of advanced network communications and technology solutions recently worked with Resolve to achieve a lofty goal of alarm reduction.  

Starting in its NOC, the Fortune 500 company experienced transformative change by applying automation to four use cases of great impact, which included building onto existing automation. The organization enhanced its alarm triage processes and made it more efficient, primarily by eliminating the need for a NOC surveillance team.  The use cases consisted of:  

1. Circuit Enrichment: Automatically looking up Circuit ID numbers and adding them into the Netcool alarm took significantly less time than with manual work. Automation unleashed the response team’s efficiency and productivity, which went a long way considering the staggering quantity of alarms it was getting.   

2. Maintenance Correlation: Hundreds of alarms were generated during regularly scheduled maintenance windows. With automation, each alarm no longer had to be factored into the IT team’s time and effort, allowing each person in IT to really contribute to the business. Automation was implemented to tag each alarm appropriately and once the window closed, it cleared out the alarms.  

3. Power Alarm Processing: The company relied on its IT team to recognize alarms from different locations whenever a power outage occurred, which set the stage for mistakes. Using automation to verify the alarms and appropriately escalate them to the right technician allowed for immediate dispatch.  

4. TDM Switch Diagnostics: The company’s IT team was also responsible for running diagnostics on the switches to identify fault packs. Once automation was implemented for this case, the fault packs were automatically identified and important details were escalated, sending IT representatives to the right locations right away, for faster remediation of the issue. 

The Future of the Dark NOC: All Eyes on Full Autonomy  

NOC teams today can take advantage of automation that will set organizations up for a successful pursuit of a Dark NOC that functions sans human assistance or intervention. These automations are powerful, and they can lift any limits placed on humans and technology when it comes to dark NOC challenges.  

There’s a solid opportunity in the current landscape, where there’s so much to figure out and prepare for, to implement automation according to their one-of-a-kind business needs. Chances are, they already have some automation in place, and it’s about building on them to drive value and make change happen.  

From eliminating toil, automating multiple steps within a single IT process, and starting end-to-end IT process automation, to transforming customer experiences with automation, organizations can see things like a fully autonomous Dark NOC becoming a reality.  

Fully powered by automation, a Dark NOC might seem like a far-fetched concept. In today’s telecommunications industry; however, it’s a top goal for the future. 

Reach out to Resolve to learn what steps your organization can take to bring a Dark NOC home.  

About the author, Joanna Smartwood :

About the author, Joanna Smartwood :

Head of Demand Generation, Content & Creative

A Dark Network Operations Center (NOC) is one that runs with no IT staff … at least that’s how it’s been defined up until now.