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 a tremendous driver of service delivery for many managed services providers (MSPs).
These technical teams keep a watchful eye over the endpoints that they monitor and manage, independently resolving issues are they arise and taking preventative steps to ensure many issues do not occur. NOC teams are also heavily involved in high-level security actions and backup and disaster recovery (BDR) efforts, ensuring 24x7x365 uptime for an MSP’s customers.
What are the Roles & Responsibilities of a NOC Technician?
NOC engineers and technicians are responsible for monitoring infrastructure health, security and capacity on a clients’ environment. They make decisions and adjustments to ensure optimal network performance and organizational productivity.
When any action or intervention from the MSP is required, 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 then 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 in their ability 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, if the problem goes beyond the failed hardware, the ticket may be escalated to a Level 2 or Level 3 technician.
NOC techs constantly research anomalous 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.
Additional NOC capabilities include:
- 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
- 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’s presence. NOC 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 problem 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 cover while maintaining a profitable, growing business. Even while fully staffed, it would not be able to shift to meet the peaks and troughs of demand while simultaneously preparing for the maintenance of everyday IT tasks that need to be carried out.
Instead, MSP should consider partnering with a third-party NOC who can take on most of the technical work that needs to be done in a growing MSP practice. Instead of an unwieldy in-house operation, a NOC acts as an extension of the MSP’s existing workforce, leaving an MSP’s primary technical staff to focus on high value, high ROI projects.
Solving the Skills Gap and Scaling with a NOC
Given the shortage of skilled, qualified and experienced technicians that are capable of handling Level 1–3 (commonly known as the IT skills gap), using a NOC is a more efficient, cost-effective option than hiring technicians to scale. Considering the skills gap, for many MSPs it is extremely difficult or simply impossible to staff their business with enough techs with the right skillsets to grow their business profitably. And, given the great demand for these technicians, the right technicians command a salary that has also grown commensurately, making profit margins even more difficult to achieve while attempting to staff at scale.
However, a 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 and be added to scale, protecting MSP margins while delivering 24x7x365 results.
NOC vs. Help Desk
Despite the many things that 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 big difference? A help desk interacts with end-clients; a NOC interacts with MSPs.
The NOC provides back end maintenance, problem resolution and support, so that 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 some issue. In other words, if an end-user is having 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 major differences in the objectives of a network operations center and a security operations center, otherwise known as a SOC.
They key criteria that both a NOC and a SOC have in common is that they work with the MSP to solve IT-related issues, and never with the end user. However, where a NOC will focus on the remote monitoring and maintenance of a client’s IT environment to meet SLAs and ensure client uptime free of technical malfunction, 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 cyber attacks as they arise.
Most SOCs employ a security information and event management (SIEM) process that aggregates information from various security-focused systems data streams. Everything from network discovery and vulnerability assessment systems, governance, risk and compliance (GRC) systems, penetration testing tools, intrusion detection and prevention systems, log management systems; network behavior analysis and much more is collected and parsed by SOC technicians, who are themselves trained security experts.
NOCs and SOCs perform many services—all of it mission-critical value to an MSP—but there is little overlap in their missions or objectives. Rather, by engaging these teams to offer a wider range of services, MSPs receive a greater benefit than attempting to merge the tasks associated with these groups into one hybrid team.
The NOC and the Continuum Platform
Continuum deeply integrates its NOC into its core platform, seamlessly delivering a combination of intelligent software and services to create a solution that is unparalleled in the industry. This deep integration allows MSPs to grow more profitably than their peers and keep infrastructure costs down by providing the full suite of technology, labor and skill needed to add new clients quickly while delivering exceptional service.