What is a network operations center (NOC)?
Not sure what a Network Operations Center (NOC) is or how it relates to remote monitoring and management (RMM) services? This article will explain everything you need to know.
A network operations center, or NOC (pronounced “knock”), is a centralized location where IT technicians directly support the efforts of remote monitoring and management (RMM) software. NOC teams are heavily utilized in the managed IT services space and are a tremendous driver of service delivery for many managed services providers (MSPs).
These technical teams keep a watchful eye over the endpoints they monitor and manage, independently resolving issues that arise and taking preventative steps to ensure system breakdowns do not occur. NOC teams are also heavily involved in high-level security actions and backup and disaster recovery (BDR) efforts, ensuring uptime 24/7/365 for an MSP’s customers.
What are the roles and responsibilities of a NOC technician
NOC engineers and technicians are responsible for monitoring infrastructure health, security, and capacity in a client’s environment. They make decisions and adjustments to ensure optimal network performance and organizational productivity.
When MSPs are required to give any sort of NOC support, NOC technicians can create alerts (or “tickets”) that identify and categorize the issue based on severity, alert type, and other criteria. Depending on the relationship between the NOC and the MSP, technical teams can work together to resolve the problem and identify its root cause to prevent future issues.
Technicians are categorized based on “levels,” which indicate the severity and difficulty of issues they handle. Levels are numbered from 1 (easier problems to solve, minor issues) and increase to Level 3 to categorize the most complicated of IT issues.
For example, in the case of a hardware failure, an alert may be assigned to a Level 1 technician at first. However, upon further inspection, the ticket may be escalated to a Level 2 or Level 3 technician if the problem seems to run deeper than a surface hardware failure.
NOC techs constantly research suspicious activities on the network, make technical adjustments, and can marshal extensive resources—some that would only be used rarely by an in-house IT services provider—to respond to emergency situations.
To further define a network operations center technician’s role, here’s a quick rundown of some of their daily tasks:
- Application software installations, troubleshooting, and updating
- Email management services
- Backup and storage management
- Network discovery and assessments
- Policy enforcement
- Firewall and intrusion prevention system (IPS) monitoring and management on NOC computers
- Antivirus scanning and remediation
- Patch management and whitelisting
- Shared threat analysis
- Optimization and quality of service reporting
- Voice and video traffic management
- Performance reporting and improvement recommendations
A silent partnership
When operating at peak efficiency with a managed IT service partner, an end-user isn’t even aware of the NOC. Network operations center technicians coordinate only with the MSP or solution provider they’re supporting—never directly with an end client. This creates a user experience where the MSP can seamlessly deliver world-class support and incident resolution with seemingly boundless resources.
In-house vs. outsourced
The fixed labor and infrastructure costs of building an in-house NOC, SOC, or help desk team are typically too much to handle while maintaining a profitable, growing business. Even while fully staffed, it would not be able to shift to meet the highs and lows of demand while simultaneously preparing for the necessary everyday maintenance tasks.
MSPs should consider partnering with a third-party NOC that can take on most of the technical work necessary to provide first-class IT services. There are many benefits to outsourcing your Network Operations Center. Instead of an unwieldy in-house operation, an outsourced NOC acts as an extension of the MSP’s existing workforce. With the right NOC partner, you can lower the cost of entry to leverage a NOC without any loss of quality, and allow your technical staff to focus on more high-value, high-ROI projects.
Solving the skills gap and scaling with a NOC
Given the shortage of skilled, qualified, and experienced technicians capable of handling Levels 1–3 (commonly known as the IT skills gap), leveraging a third-party NOC is more efficient and cost-effective than hiring technicians to scale. For many MSPs, it is extremely difficult or simply impossible to staff their business with enough techs with the right skill sets to grow their business profitably. And, given the great demand for these technicians, the right technicians command a salary that has also grown, making profit margins even more difficult to achieve while attempting to staff at scale.
However, a third-party NOC eliminates the skills gap by offering all the resources an MSP would need in their technical staff for a flat fee each month. And as the MSP’s business grows, more resources can be added, protecting MSP margins while positioning them to deliver results around the clock.
NOC vs. help desk
Despite the many things a Network Operations Center is, there’s one thing it absolutely is not—a help desk. This is an important distinction and one that can easily confuse business owners if not properly explained.
The most notable difference is that a help desk interacts with end clients. On the other hand, a NOC interacts with MSPs and is generally not client-facing.
The NOC provides back-end maintenance, as well as incident resolution and support. Subsequently, the MSP can respond to issues as they arise and ensure client uptime.
The help desk, on the other hand, is a call center – designed to field front-line questions directly from end clients who are actively experiencing a particular issue. In other words, if an end-user has a problem, they can call the help desk. If the MSP is having a problem, they’ll contact the NOC.
NOC vs. SOC
While they may look and sound similar, there are significant differences in the objectives of a network operations center and a security operations center (SOC).
The key criteria that both a NOC and a SOC have in common are that they work with the MSP and never with the end user. However, where a NOC will focus on the remote monitoring and maintenance (RMM) of a client’s IT environment, a SOC is much more security-focused. SOCs monitor for vulnerabilities, attack vectors, and emerging threats on a client network and are prepared to detect anomalies and mitigate cyberattacks as they arise.
Most SOCs employ a security information and event management (SIEM) process that aggregates data streams from various security-focused systems. SOCs leverage information from:
- network discovery and vulnerability assessment systems
- governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) system
- penetration testing tools
- intrusion detection and prevention systems
- log management
- behavior analysis
This is just a small list of the data sources SOCs use to do their job. These data streams and more are collected and parsed by SOC technicians who are trained cybersecurity experts themselves.
NOCs and SOCs perform many services—all of them mission-critical to an MSP—but there is little overlap in their missions or objectives. Engaging these teams allows MSPs to offer more services, and they don’t have to handle the responsibilities of a SOC alone, with only their internal team.
To dig deeper into what a SOC truly is and what’s involved in building out your own security operations center, download our free SOC feature sheet.
The NOC and the ConnectWise platform
ConnectWise deeply integrates its network operations center into its core platform. The result is seamless delivery of a combination of intelligent software and services to create an unparalleled solution in the industry.
This deep integration allows MSPs to grow more profitably than their peers and keep infrastructure costs down by implementing our full suite of technology, labor, and skills. You’ll be able to add new clients quickly while still delivering exceptional service.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns regarding your NOC setup or performance. The ConnectWise team is always happy to help, and our goal is to ensure your business remains a cut above the rest in the world of managed IT services.