The true financial harm of downtime is significant. As of Aug 11, 2022, each minute costs an average of $9,000, according to the Ponemon Institute, raising the downtime cost per hour to over $500,000. It goes without saying that network outages hurt revenue, kill productivity, and harm the corporate brand, as well as the reputations of professionals who may be dragged into the mess.
Like the human nervous system it resembles, the Network Operations Center (NOC) didn’t just emerge fully formed. Rather, the NOC evolved incrementally under pressure to reflect technological progress and to avert or conquer risk. The NOC keeps the network and the organization functional in a world roiling with competition, vulnerabilities, natural calamities, and relentless cyber-attacks. This complex bundle of synapses is on the alert to head off trouble—and to exploit opportunities to grow smarter and stronger. Just like our own human set of reflexes and senses.
Of course, a NOC is not merely a collection of electrons. It’s an aggregation of highly intelligent people whose own minds collaborate to deal with critical activities from both within and outside the organization.
Life in the NOC
The population guiding the NOC is diverse—engineers, analysts, operators, team leaders. Each has a specific skill set to contribute to the organization. They track and manage IT endpoints including devices, routers, bridges, and associated virtual resources. They oversee processes, protocols, and procedures, always scouting for trouble—ideally before it can manifest.
The speed of preemptive reaction that warns of danger or failure makes a vast difference in how intense and harmful an incident becomes. Thus, at the first sign of trouble, NOC team engineers and specialists spring into action. Their training, experience, tools, and level of knowledge take over from less specialized technicians. Many have advanced certifications to give them an even greater edge. Smaller organizations may not have such expertise in-house, so they turn to alliances with third-party service providers. Like the human nervous system, the scope and speed of response are critical in avoiding, minimizing, or alleviating a threat.
Enterprises Rely on NOC Structure and Function
The NOC is divided into sections that must work collaboratively and seamlessly to deliver full visibility into the enterprise infrastructure and all its components and equipment. These sections interact with instantaneous granularity along interconnected pathways. Any injury to communications can be catastrophic, although the NOC has also evolved alternative back-ups—routes and strategies to mitigate damage.
Such interconnectivity and layering of defenses are major elements of network operations. Processing, integrating, and coordinating information received from the “senses” helps the living enterprise make decisions and retain or recover the ability to plan, reason, respond, and resolve a challenge.
The Anatomy of the NOC
Physically, a NOC may reside in its own dedicated room, like the brain within the head. And like the brain, the NOC functions nonstop to guide and run not only one individual in a single location but perhaps a global enterprise that also includes vast numbers of people working from home.
A NOC may be walls covered with video screens, each with its own visual performance display, quick to pinpoint active incidents and alarms. These are arranged to interoperate, comprised of many high-resolution units. As sophistication and functions evolve, the number of devices has soared. The speed of the Internet means that an incident happening in a remote, small location can instantaneously affect and endanger the entire enterprise. Website traffic and malware can speed up almost anywhere to cause downtime that wreaks havoc on the ability to meet customer needs.
There’s no upside to downtime. NOCs, like our nervous system, evolved to sense and respond constantly—whether to run high-impact launches that attract a worldwide audience—or to move through “business as usual.” But the network is a battlefield. Even conventional, routine features can explode if threats uncover a vulnerability. The ideal outcome is to proactively reveal failures, incidents, or threats and resolve them before customers and internal users even become aware of a close call. A NOC can be responsible for managing:
- Network devices
- Wireless systems
- Internet of things (IoT) devices
- Virtual machines (VMs)
- Software and services (internal and external)
NOC personnel also oversee network activity reports generated by an endless array of dashboards. Customer help desk systems may fall under their aegis as well. And the NOC may integrate with a customers’ network tools to find and solve gaps in customer service and support—safeguarding and nurturing the all-important customer experience.
The NOC’s incident management capability functions as a hierarchy. Technicians may be assigned Level 1, 2, or 3 based on skill and experience. If a NOC technician senses a problem, they will jump on it with a ticket that categorizes alert type, severity, and other relevant information. If that approach falls short of a resolution, the matter ascends to the next level and escalates again until full resolution.
Complex, business-critical tasks—network troubleshooting, software distribution and updating, router and domain name management, performance monitoring, and coordination with affiliated networks are only part of the technology.
The Role of a NOC Engineer
Those working in the NOC need certain characteristics so they can carry out their roles. This interaction supersedes technical expertise alone. Human beings have a specific set of emotional and social needs that can be just as important as engineering skills for the whole to function.
Most importantly, they must be able to communicate in near-real time. They must be willing to take on responsibility and account for their own roles in an activity or emergency. Stakeholders need timely, relevant, and in-depth incident alerts from them, and the whole enterprise is deeply engaged in tracking and evaluating key performance indicators (KPIs). A cohort of NOC engineers must be on the alert to avoid worst-case scenarios. If they can’t be avoided, the NOC team must dive in to ameliorate damage and ensure its cause is resolved. They must also learn from an incident, prevent recurrence, and work to prevent future downtime and outages.
Key use cases include:
- Endpoint monitoring and management
- Incident identification, classification, and resolution
- Software installation and management
- Backup and storage management
- Patch management
- IT performance reporting
Monitoring and Evaluating NOC Performance
The NOC team often uses metrics to monitor performance including incident management and device performance, as well as additional network issues.
Here are the top 5 NOC key performance indicators (KPIs) that network teams can track against:
Network Traffic KPIs
- 95th percentile usage
- Packet drops
- Latency between selected endpoints
- Application availability
- AP connections to controllers
- Client volume
- Signal strength
Routing and Switching KPIs
- Stability of neighbor connections and paths
Supporting Infrastructure KPIs
- Power, cooling, rack space, and backup monitoring
- Volume of trouble tickets
- Mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR)
- Time to perform common services
- Status of network documentation
- Network equipment age and refresh planning
NOC best practices prioritize robust training. They define and establish roles and protocols using common communication procedures. When complete, the NOC team enjoys a higher level of expertise to monitor, manage, and resolve network performance issues and keep the IT infrastructure healthy.
Experts need frequent training on new procedures and protocols to keep pace with the changing tech landscape, changes to your own IT environment, and new threats. Staff must know how to identify an emergency and escalate a problem.
The NOC runs on open lines of communication within NOC, SOC, and other external teams. Opportunities to collaborate and coordinate are key to a healthy NOC.
Establishing protocols ensure everyone is on the same page, provides consistency, and supports accountability.
The NOC Lives by Its Tools: Here’s How to Choose the Right Ones
A NOC is a dynamic entity and an investment in tools is crucial. So what do you need?
- Visibility of the comprehensive network infrastructure, across physical, virtual, and cloud
- Automation to minimize redundant, mind-dulling work. Automation spurs innovation, whether in 10,000 BC or 2023.
- Ticket management to dispense information related to open tickets, priority tasks, and assigned personnel to ensure quick resolution of internal and external issues.
- Incident reporting, including visual analysis, graphical representation of thresholds, alarms, indicators, and trends to ease investigation and documentation for the future
- A simple interface and deployment to benefit quickly without a lengthy complex deployment and a learning curve.
- Scalability to ensure the NOC can handle the enterprise it is helping generate.
Tools let NOC teams go deeper, improve incident response, and streamline whenever the opportunity arises. This means:
- Nonstop monitoring of information and network systems
- Established response and remediation to avoid seat-of-the-pants panic
- Escalation groups for incident alerts
- A trusted incident classification system
- Retrieval & evaluation of NOC performance data
- Tracking of incident response activities
- Regular NOC system tests
- Reliable scheduling to ensure team members can always respond to incidents
How Resolve Empowers the NOC
Resolve Actions helps you automate your Network Operations Center (NOC) to meet SLAs and other business demands for service and application delivery. Our platform is built to help you manage complex and diverse IT environments, simplify cross-team collaboration, and expedite resolution times for your network incidents and tickets. No matter where organizations are in their automation maturity, Resolve can automate partial or end-to-end incident response.
To understand the full potential for your Network Operations Center, request a demo.