Top 5 Challenges of the Modern Network Operations Center

Park Place: Professional Services

Jordan MacPherson - global Network and Server Management leader - headshot
Jordan MacPherson November 23, 2021

The main purpose of a Network Operations Center is to offer companies a centralized solution for monitoring and managing the network infrastructure. In general, the objectives are to prevent downtime and maintain availability.

The network is getting larger, more widespread, and more complex. Businesses continue to adopt new IT models to keep pace with changing customer needs, complicating the typical network environment and sometimes resulting in an infrastructure beyond what most IT teams can support. As a result, NOCs are under serious pressure to meet the increasing needs of their customers and deliver service levels to match.

Top Five Challenges of the NOC

Today, operating and managing a NOC comes with major challenges organizations need to stay ahead of to deliver a quality customer experience.

1. Human Resources 👨‍💻👩‍💻

Finding the Right Candidates

When building out a NOC, certain skills are required to be effective as an engineer – and it’s not just a technical understanding of network equipment or how a routing protocol is expected to run. There are also the additional components of understanding the context of the network estate and being able to communicate with customers on the fly. When you combine all these requirements, finding the right candidates is no easy feat.

24×7 Operations

A NOC is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week proposition. As a result, staffing, coverage, and general availability can be a major hurdle. Costs, resource utilization, and training all factor in majorly when it comes running an around-the-clock operation. Not to mention, scale can be difficult, especially for organizations without multiple geographies.

Staff Retention

The reality of a NOC engineer role isn’t an easy one. The truth is that retaining an employee with an understanding of network equipment and good communication who has to work difficult hours for entry or junior-level pay is tough. Most NOC engineers will be understandably quick to accept another role that allows them to work during the day, pays more, or simply gets them off the phone. Not to mention, there’s a natural churn that takes place in the NOC in the first place because the engineers who do hang around long enough will eventually want to move forward into a more impactful role.

2. Tools 🖥⚙

Here’s the thing about monitoring: it’s never done. Rather, monitoring is a continual process which requires constant refining of thresholds, device lists, and the like. However, it’s not uncommon for a NOC to place a lot of emphasis on thresholds – then six months later, every alert under the sun is headed to an unmonitored mailbox while a plan that started out with good intentions ceases to be helpful entirely.

The team that works in the NOC must manage their monitoring systems nonstop, as well as care for and upgrade tools as necessary. It’s also important to note that a NOC tool is a combination of the tool itself and the people using it; no NOC tool functions as a simple, deployed out-of-the-box solution. It’s not enough to have a monitoring tool – you must also operate a NOC with the right staff who conducts monitoring intelligently.

Frankly, possibly the number one challenge when it comes to monitoring tools in general is monitoring what matters. Too often, people are misguided in monitoring things that are, for lack of a better word, “shiny,” and the foundational idea of only monitoring what matters gets lost.

3. Process Management and Maturity 🔁📈

Process maturity may seem simple at face value, but alas, it is not. Deciding what to do in the face of a major network problem is a big deal; how do you get from an alert to the right person on the phone, and how do you make sure that same process always happens efficiently, correctly, and within a specific timeframe?

To put it simply, you’re not always going to fix something for a customer on the phone, but you need to provide great customer service regardless, and in a way that that steers the customer away from frustration that something is broken. The key is how your NOC integrates with the rest of your organization. You should be able to present to executive leadership that the NOC is a valuable component of the overall business model, and the cost is justified.

4. Security 🔒🔑

Often, the typical NOC faces the conundrum of how to integrate with the security operations center and/or whether to merge. SOC teams frequently struggle with scaling to meet network demands, not to mention keeping pace with the volatility of the threat landscape and rate of attacks. When the SOC and NOC don’t work as one, security risks and inefficiency can run rampant, especially in the absence of the tools and systems that allow for the necessary information sharing.

5. Cost and Value 💸📊

Justifying costs and demonstrating value, as alluded to above under process management and maturity, is one of the biggest challenges of NOC operations by far. Running a 24×7 operation is expensive to begin with, but staffing – from availability to training – tends to hit hardest where cost is concerned. There’s also:

  • Financial outlay at the onset
  • Keeping pace with technology
  • Expanding and improving infrastructure
  • Toolsets: adoption, maintenance, and training

Best Practices for Successful NOC Operations

Whether you’re evaluating building versus outsourcing your NOC or you’re offering outsourced NOC services, it’s always a good time to take a closer look at the state of operations to identify what can be improved. We’ve put together a list of best practices for your reference:

✅Ensure you have the right depth and breadth of human resources. If you’re evaluating a provider or if you’re evaluating whether to build, ask yourself: are you going to be able to staff and manage the NOC in the right way? If not, are you willing to hire the people to do that?

✅When it comes to process maturity, find a framework that works for you and adopt it, whether you’re considering ITIL or COBIT 5.

✅Where tools are concerned, remember it’s all about investment and learning – both of which are expensive.

✅As you approach security, once again, identify the proper framework, know what you’re targeting and how to build it, and invest appropriately. If you do decide to build, remember the process is an evolution, not a revolution. You have to start with the minimally viable version of the offering and not expect the world in 1.O. As you mature, know that it’s going to take time to build out processes around monitoring and security.

Delivering on the above makes the difference between what often amounts to bodies in seats versus delivering a true, value-added service.

Whether your NOC is already operating, you’re in the process of building, or you’re looking for quality outsourced NOC services, it’s worth mentioning that some options are better than others. Be ready with the right network monitoring tool that makes things simple for NOC engineers, from tenancy models to role-based access.

Entuity makes it easy, offering simple network monitoring software that scales easily as you grow:

🗺 Network topology

🔭 Network discovery

🛣 Application path monitoring

Network Event management

🚦 Network Flow & NBAR

📰 Reporting

Find out more 👉 about Entuity network management software today!

Jordan MacPherson - global Network and Server Management leader - headshot

About the Author

Jordan MacPherson,
Jordan is responsible for guiding the global Network and Server Management offerings for Park Place’s ParkView Managed Services division. His responsibilities include collaborating with Sales, Marketing, Enterprise Operations, and the R&D team to develop and bring to market Park Place’s world-class managed services. He brings 12 years of global experience in planning, monitoring, and delivering IT Services, including nearly 10 years as a Team Lead and Strategic Applications Developer with MSP IntelliNet before its acquisition by Park Place. Jordan is a graduate of Ohio University.