What is a network operations center

What is a network operations center?

NOC (pronounced “knock”) stands for Network Operations Center. A NOC is a central place where IT professionals can track the performance and health of a network regularly. The NOC is the first line of defense against network outages and disturbances.

Infrastructure and equipment from wires to servers, wireless systems, databases, firewalls, various network devices including IoT devices and smartphones, telecommunications, dashboards, and reporting are all under the control of the NOC. The NOC’s management services include monitoring customer support calls and help desk ticketing systems, as well as contact with customers’ network tools. As a result, the NOC plays a significant role in ensuring a positive customer experience.

NOCs can be developed in-house and kept on-site, usually in the data center, or they can be outsourced to a business that specializes in network and infrastructure monitoring and management. NOC workers are responsible for recognizing faults and making swift decisions on how to resolve them, regardless of the design. 

NOCs were established for two reasons. The first was to provide IT personnel a central area to work from, rather than having them scurry about from site to location trying to fix problems or do preventative maintenance, such as patching systems.

The second, and perhaps more important, motivation was to enable network monitoring at all times. While not all NOCs are directly involved in security operations, those responsibilities are sometimes delegated to a SOC or Security Operations Center, those who work in a NOC are frequently the first to notice when something is wrong with the network, whether it’s a security issue or hardware failure.

What are the key roles in the NOC?

A team of technicians – NOC engineers, analysts, or operators — will work in the NOC, as will multiple team leaders or shift supervisors. NOC workers must have certain skill sets for monitoring, maintaining, and promptly resolving network performance issues. That kind of expertise is usually beyond the reach of the average IT professional. NOC specialists generally have great work experience, especially in the areas of network monitoring and tools.

Many also have advanced certifications in the field.

Because many smaller businesses cannot afford to staff a big team solely focused on network performance, third-party service providers provide NOC services as an alternative to an in-house NOC.

What is the structure and design of NOCs?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or template for how a NOC should be set up or how the individuals who work there should be structured. The NOC of a smaller company could be a single office or small conference room with a few workstations for specialists to monitor the network and troubleshoot issues.

Larger organizations, particularly those that use their NOC to monitor an entire data center, may opt to build out massive control centers with large central monitors or even projection screens showing overall network health, and then have workstations strewn about for technicians responsible for specific network operations. Individual workstations typically have many monitors as well.

There is no unique method to organize NOC staff, just as there is no single way to organize the plan for the room. However, when it comes to the organization of human IT employees, there is a little more consistency. Almost all jobs are organized into a tight hierarchical category that is labeled and ranked according to their “level.”

A NOC technician with a higher level usually has greater experience. For example, Level 1 techs, the lowest rank, are nearly always on the front lines, answering phones and assisting users in recovering their passwords, assuming the NOC provides help desk services. In any case, if a Level 1 technician is unable to resolve a problem because it requires a skill or permission level beyond their own, such as repartitioning a server or adding extra resources to a container, the assignment is passed to a Level 2 technician.

Level 3 technicians are exceptionally talented and knowledgeable, and most businesses have a shortage of them. They are usually called to action only when something crucial is at stake. If a network’s entire East Coast operations fall down in the middle of the night, Level 3 techs will be the ones to fix it.

What is the objective of a NOC?

Simply said, the purpose of any NOC is to provide continuous uptime while maintaining excellent network performance and availability. The NOC is in charge of a number of important tasks, including:

  • Monitoring the network for faults that need special attention, such as those that come from outside sources.
  • Software installation, upgrades, troubleshooting, and distribution across all devices are all part of the server, network, and device management.
  • Incident response, which includes dealing with power outages and communication line problems.
  • In conjunction with security operations, security includes monitoring, threat analysis, and tool deployment.
  • Disaster Recovery, Backup, and storage.
  • Voice, Video Data Management, and Email.
  • Patch management.
  • Management of firewall and intrusion prevention systems, as well as antivirus assistance.
  • Policy enforcement.
  • The collecting of comments and user recommendations is used to improve services.
  • The service level agreement is adhered to.
  • Freelancer, Vendor, and contractor management.

The challenges of network administration and performance monitoring have never been greater. Organizations nowadays are dealing with increasingly complex networks, with global offices, workers working from home, and an ever-increasing number of devices to manage and monitor.

Network performance can be impacted by a variety of factors, including the number of users, website traffic, and malware, thus problems can arise from practically any place. Even minor problems can cause downtime, causing chaos in production and your capacity to satisfy client demands.

Gartner published a paper a few years ago claiming that one minute of downtime can cost an organization $5,600. Network interruptions reduce revenue, destroy productivity, and damage your IT team’s and the company’s brand. With this in mind, NOCs are built to prevent downtime such that customers and internal end-users aren’t even aware of it when accidents or outages do occur.

What Does a Network Operations Center Do?

The simplest explanation of what a NOC performs is that it is in charge of practically everything that has to do with the network being secured. While the primary role is always to monitor the health of a network and solve any problems, practically all NOCs and its personnel perform a variety of individual activities on a daily basis. Here are a few of the most typical functions allocated to a NOC and its staff, in addition to network monitoring.

Patch Management: Computers aren’t static for long. There are always fixes that need to be applied, whether you’re talking about PCs, laptops, or servers. Some patches are crucial, such as those that fix security flaws, while others simply boost performance or improve the user experience. And it isn’t just ordinary machines that require patching. Network gear must also be upgraded on a regular basis. Even sensors and small IoT devices now require patching on a regular basis.

Patch management could extend to user devices, ensuring that endpoints are completely patched before allowing them to connect to network resources. As a result, patching systems takes up a lot of time in a NOC.

Policy Enforcement: A network is more than the gear and software that keeps it running. It is, at its core, a set of rules that must be followed by both human users and the gadgets that operate on it. Setting those rules, optimizing them for network speed, and making sure that everyone and everything follows them is a never-ending task for NOCs.

Firewall Management: Even if the so-called security perimeter is disintegrating as more network services migrate to the cloud, most NOCs still maintain firewalls. This applies to both hardware and software-based firewalls. Firewall management can include everything from opening and closing ports to customizing them to allow or prevent new programs from completing specified duties.

Security Software Management: This is similar to firewall administration, but it also involves the upkeep of any security platforms or services that have been put on the network.

While proof of an actual attack is handed off to a SOC (if one exists inside the organization), the NOC is usually in charge of day-to-day security software maintenance, especially if faulty security software can cause valid network operations to degrade or even stop.

Backing Up Data: Backups are another important duty that NOCs frequently do. In the case of a hardware or network failure, ensuring that vital data is periodically saved to long-term or off-site storage is critical, and it is also required to comply with continuity of operations planning.

Antivirus: Although advanced threats are progressively circumventing this security, a patched and up-to-date antivirus product can still stop the vast majority of online threats that target networks and users. And it almost always succeeds in thwarting crucial but common threats such as ransomware. However, antivirus protection on all computers must be kept up to date, and the NOC may assist with this.

Network Reporting: Although few people prefer writing reports as a part of their profession, it is unavoidable, even within a NOC. NOC IT personnel must not only monitor their network, but also notice trends, trouble spots, and areas where new hardware may be necessary to compensate for poor performance or to allow for future network development. Workers at the NOC will frequently be expected to file such reports with the CIO or other company executives, and they may even be obliged to produce them on demand or in answer to a network-related question.

Network Operation Center Versus Security Operation Center?

A SOC, or security operations center, is similar to a NOC in terms of design and staffing, but it focuses solely on cybersecurity issues. The IT personnel at a SOC, like those at a NOC, are continually monitoring their network. Instead of looking for common computer problems, they search for risks. This could be something minor, such as a hacker attempting to elevate their access using stolen credentials, or something more overt, such as a denial of service attack. Threat hunting is a practice in which some of the most highly qualified SOC personnel go out into the network and look for threats or assaults that have yet to be found. NOCs and SOCs can, and frequently do, collaborate.

For example, the NOC may observe odd network activity and request assistance from the SOC in determining whether a threat is to blame. NOCs and SOCs used to be placed together at a single facility with overlapping duties. However, given the current state of most networks and the extremely severe threat landscape, having separate facilities and employees is a far more effective solution.

Is it better to have an internal NOC or a Managed Service?

NOCs were created to help manage the complexity of today’s network operations. Larger firms discovered that concentrating their IT resources in one location and monitoring their networks from there helped them battle network sprawl and keep operations running. However, as networks grew larger, even internal NOCs began to feel the burden.

Maintaining an internal NOC is becoming increasingly expensive and labor-intensive, especially for non-IT organizations, and it does not directly contribute to their bottom line. The aim of a corporation could be to offer bicycles, bananas, or a variety of other products. Its goal isn’t to keep a large network running at a multimillion-dollar site.

As a result, the notion of a NOC-as-a-service was established, and it has grown in popularity. The goal is to delegate all of a NOC’s responsibilities to a company that specializes in doing so. In exchange for a monthly or yearly charge, the service provider monitors and troubleshoots all network operations for their client via the cloud. The corporation can then return to selling bananas.

What are the best NOC practices?

A network operations center’s best practices include prioritizing training, relying on clearly defined responsibilities, and establishing explicit protocols and communication channels.

Prioritize training and knowledge development: Your NOC personnel should have extensive experience monitoring, managing, and resolving issues related to network performance and IT infrastructure. Keep up with the evolving tech world and changes to your own IT system by providing thorough and frequent training on procedures and standards for any occurrence. Prioritize network performance issues, but don’t forget about security processes for collaborating with your SOC. Escalation is a critical procedural issue; ensure that your staff understands how and when to quickly escalate a growing problem to a more experienced teammate.

Define roles clearly: These days, flatter organizational structures are more popular. It makes sense to empower each team member rather than insisting on rank- or role-based handoffs in the speedily, must-act-now world of network monitoring. However, escalation tiers and shift supervisors are still required to manage the NOC, even though technicians should be equipped with the knowledge and authority to act promptly to avert network disruptions.

While NOC technicians should be left to do their jobs and offer insight without being micromanaged, you do need a leader who assigns work to technicians based on their skills, prioritizes tasks, prepares reports, ensures incidents are properly resolved, and notifies the broader organization of events as needed. In addition, each technician should be aware of the tasks that will be expected of them, their level, and the reporting line in the event that they need to escalate or respond to an incident.

Allow for effective communication: Maintaining open lines of communication within the NOC, SOC, and other external teams can be difficult. It’s more than merely scheduling a few meetings on a regular basis. Instead, a determined effort is required to instruct employees on how and when to share knowledge, as well as to hold them accountable for doing so. A strong NOC relies on regular chances for collaboration and coordination.Create a set of rules and protocols that are easy to follow:

Create clear policies for the following to keep things going smoothly:

  • Management of incident: Document the procedures that technicians should follow in the event of an issue (e.g., when the technician can make the decision, when to escalate the decision, when to notify team members, and so on).
  • Solutions: Outline protocols for dealing with typical problems and provide quick solutions for emergencies.
  • Escalation: Determine how and to whom the team should escalate issues.
  • Prioritization: Determine which occurrences are the most significant and which technician level should be in charge of them. Incidents should be prioritized according to their impact on the business.

Having well-defined protocols ensures that everyone is on the same page, offers consistency throughout the organization, and increases NOC staff accountability.

Of course, having the proper people and processes in place creates the groundwork, but without the correct tools, the work cannot be completed.

What criteria do you use to select the correct tools for your NOC?

The tool you choose is primarily determined by your business needs, but your NOC will require a tool (or a set of tools) that provides the following features:

  • A complete picture of your network infrastructure: It doesn’t matter if it’s real, virtual, or cloud-based.
  • Automation: To reduce alert fatigue and free up Level 1 staff to focus on higher-priority concerns by minimizing repetitious chores.
  • Ticket management: So you can see information about open tickets, such as priority tasks and the technician assigned to them, and rapidly handle internal and external difficulties.
  • Incident reporting: It’s easier to explore problems and document them with a tool that gives visual analysis and graphical representations of thresholds, alarms, indicators, and trends.
  • A straightforward user interface and deployment: You want to see results right away rather than having to go through a long, complicated deployment process with a steep learning curve.
  • Scalability: As your company expands, you’ll want to make sure the NOC can keep up.

The technology you use should provide you with complete visibility throughout your whole network, allowing you to drill down further, examine issues, and enhance your overall incident response over time.