A network operations center, most often referred to as a NOC (pronounced “knock”) is a centralized management location where complex IT networks are monitored 24x7. NOCs are needed by any organization with IT infrastructure that requires high availability—encompassing networks, servers, applications and websites. NOC technicians provide around the clock surveillance, maintenance, support, and troubleshooting to ensure optimal performance and uptime.
From corporate enterprises to non-profit organizations, NOCs are used across multiple industries and verticals. Depending on the size of an organization, technicians may work from within a NOC command and control room within a data center or corporate office, or from within a separate, dedicated NOC facility. Because of the complexities and costs of operating a NOC, this critical function is often more economical when outsourced to a dedicated NOC services provider who will serve to supplement an organization’s IT operations.
This StrataCore piece makes a strong case for outsourcing NOC services, which we will cover in-depth later. For now, look at an outsourced NOC services provider as an intelligent partner and sentinel. Your networks, servers, applications, and websites will have around-the-clock protection so you may direct your attention to what you do best: looking after your business, while the pros monitor your network.
If you want high system availability, you need infrastructure monitoring tools capable of reliably monitoring and alerting on a flexible set of metrics. Those metrics measure the day-to-day health of your infrastructure. Well-designed network infrastructure typically runs smoothly—that is until, for example, bandwidth oversaturation creates excessive latency leading to an outage.
The NOC provides monitoring services to detect and correct infrastructure incidents. Those services include monitoring the health and availability of your:
Professional NOC technicians are available and on the job 24x7 to monitor your network infrastructure. With added tier-1 remediation services, they will work to prevent errors and impairments, resolving issues before they become costly downtime and keep outages to a minimum.
Outages are inevitable. They strike when least expected and during the most inconvenient times. Your NOC must be prepared to handle those outages, and that’s where tier-1 outage remediation has you covered. NOCs are on guard to both prevent and remediate network outages. That includes rebooting your servers, resetting the network interfaces, restarting crashed applications, and instituting remote system triage to quickly resolve issues.
A NOC, strictly speaking, is not a dedicated security monitoring resource—that’s what security operations centers (or SOCs) are for. However, by virtue of its 24x7 monitoring, it serves as an advance guard for security operations centers. NOCs can monitor and respond to security alerts from firewalls and security monitoring appliances. For example, a NOC can integrate with credit union ATMs and their system validations can detect machine outages or possible tampering associated with ATM skimming. The NOC can notify those who need to respond within minutes, rather than hours after the incident occurs, thereby mitigating further losses.
A NOC can be a first alert to something that is not quite right. For example, your network monitoring can detect excessive failed logins, port scanning for open backdoors or firewall breach attempts. Bots and all kinds of nasty malware can get in through the backdoor or over the firewall. Network monitoring can detect access and user behavior for comparison with current known threats by means of proactive network monitoring. So, while NOCs are not providing security services, their monitoring and alerts could raise red flags that can be escalated to the proper security officials.
A NOC can serve as a "silent" MSP partner to the extent that the end-user is not aware of the NOC’s presence. NOC technicians work with the MSP provider to deliver behind-the-scenes, first-rate support for specialized services.
As for help desks, an important distinction and main difference is that a help desk interacts with end-users; the NOC interacts with IT staff. The NOC is the service partner that the IT team relies on for system stability.
So, all that high-level support capability leads to an important question: should you hire, train, and pay top dollar for NOC technicians to bridge your IT skills gap? If you are an MSP, that would add to your cost of doing business. If you are running a business, you probably don’t want the additional salary drain and training costs—not to mention acquiring and keeping up with technology.
Perhaps you’re considering a DIY approach for in-house monitoring because the current size and needs of your organization aren’t overly complex. Or maybe you’re an MSP who is still on the fence about adding 3rd party support. What you must also consider are the various issues this setup can present in scalability, cost, and employee morale.
Hardware and software maintenance costs are just the beginning. Requiring staff to be on-call after-hours and on weekends to respond to alerts could take a serious toll on morale and job efficiency. Burnout and potential indifference due to nuisance alarms and alerts add to the toll. Burnout aside, your network monitoring software could be aging poorly. Even when it was new, your in-house monitoring system may have lacked the capabilities and customization necessary to meet the unique network monitoring needs of your organization.
Do the research and compare the monthly cost of outsourcing NOC services with the price of either having no NOC or doing everything in-house. Be sure to factor in lost revenue for downtime, employee salaries, training, and turnover.
A NOC needs at least two people working at all times, requiring two staff members during three shifts for each 24-hour day. While salaries of NOC technicians vary depending on their experience level as well as geographic location, the national average salary of a NOC technician is about $70,000. With salaries alone, this is a $420,000 annual expense, or $35,000 a month. That’s not even including employee benefits which is on average 1.25 to 1.4 times base salary -- making the fully loaded cost per individual $87,500–$98,000. This makes a total staff expense of $525,000–$588,000 annually or $43,750–$49,000 monthly.
Now there’s hardware and software to consider. NOCs can contain hundreds of pieces of equipment. The primary servers may be housed in the NOC itself, and those costs will vary depending on quantity and quality of the machines. Server and storage equipment can range from $1,000 to $35,000 depending on the size and nature of your business. There’s also routers, switches, telecom equipment, and other network appliances which can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cost for network monitoring software is also contingent on the number of devices and can range from $1,000 to $60,000 per license.
Collectively, the cost of staffing, providing hardware, software, and housing the actual NOC center in an appropriate facility to protect the equipment (with proper cooling, power redundancy, immediate fire suppression, etc.) can cost millions of dollars.
If your organization is heavily invested on the web and in the Cloud, not having a NOC is not an option. Network downtime would be costly and catastrophic. See this report by Statista.com on the average hourly cost of critical server outages based on a 2017 user survey. (Spoiler alert: Nearly 25 percent of those surveyed worldwide “reported the average hourly downtime cost of their servers as being between 301,000 and 400,000 dollars.”)
Compare this to outsourcing. Some outsourced NOC providers include everything you need, with no up-front investment in hardware and software, along with human alerts by phone. The provider will include platform maintenance and upgrades. Monitoring plans can start as low as $1,000 per month.
You have weighed the pros, cons, costs, and benefits. You are now ready to outsource your NOC services. When looking for an outsourced NOC partner, look for one who offers a wide variety of customized options. Your needs are unique and your business faces its own set of challenges.
The following is a list of criteria excerpted from our free eBook, Choosing a NOC Partner: Everything You Should Consider When Outsourcing Your Monitoring Services. In meeting your needs, the NOC services provider should demonstrate:
This ability includes not only traditional data center infrastructure, but also more modern virtual, distributed, cloud-based environments, and all the hybrids in between. Legacy equipment and current operations should also be supported because you still depend on them—and they work.
Synthetic transactions test both the readiness and operability of your system. Those transaction capabilities are typically outside the scope of commercial monitoring software platforms. Your NOC provider should provide those services.
Your NOC partner should offer you alerting options that include a variety of means, depending on who needs to be notified as well as the seriousness of the problem.
Your NOC partner should be able to accommodate your internal business hours, holidays and on-call schedules. They should support notification delays built around time-based or duration-based thresholds, and be able to suspend alerting during known maintenance windows.
Monitoring and detection are only the first steps in keeping your network alive and well. The mission of the NOC is to prevent outages (and when outages occur, bring you back online). Look for a NOC partner with a track record of troubleshooting and fixing outages and impairments.
If 24x7 support and fast response is important to you, look for a partner who’s staffed and able to field your calls 24 hours a day.
A skilled NOC partner should continuously improve their monitoring as they learn more about your business, your network, and your people.
When you think you have found the right NOC provider, here are 15 questions you should ask:
Each of the foregoing questions is discussed in more detail in the above-mentioned eBook, Choosing a NOC Partner. (It’s a free download.)
Are you ready to make the move and take advantage of professional NOC monitoring? We can help you transition your network monitoring and onboard you to the level of service best suited for your business.
If you are looking for around-the-clock protection, monitoring, and network reliability, count on iGLASS. Get your personalized quote or just chat awhile about your business and how we can help in monitoring your network so you can concentrate on what you do best.