The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way organisations and individuals work. With people working from home and the enormous surge in online services, the importance of IT and IT infrastructure is obvious.
As a Network Operations Centre (NOC) manager, you may have faced significant challenges – scaling up the network for the needs of your customers, quickly detecting, diagnosing, resolving and communicating about network usage, performance issues and outages. What are the most important lessons we learned from 2020? In several interviews with NOC managers, we identified key insights into the challenges for the year ahead.
What do your customers really need?
Increasing demand for data, safe systems and the need to be ‘always on’.
This can put pressure on your organisation in terms of staffing, processes and communication. With overnight lockdowns being part of COVID-19 restrictions, there was an enormous increase in data use. This immediately led to unprecedented stress on systems. Communications is key to keeping customers informed about what is happening and what the potential solutions are.
How to make your network ultra-secure, serving all your needs?
Internet exchange peering and other building blocks.
Consider partnering with an international infrastructure, or a network provider with a footprint in a specific region, and/or presence in certain data centres.
Peer only works if the size of your network is equal, which also limits exchanges between the two networks. By combining these services into a single, ultra-secure network, you can serve a much wider range of needs.
Do you need a NOC and a service centre?
It depends on the size of your IT team, business-critical network, the degree of sensitivity of the managed data or networks, and the demands of your (end) customers.
In general, the larger the amount of end consumers you have, the more beneficial it is to have a split between network (NOC) and Services (Team Services Management).
The service desk is intended to provide a single point of contact to meet the communication needs of both end users and IT staff. If necessary, they escalate to the NOC who runs and monitors all IT functions 24/7.
How can you maintain a 24/7 NOC centre at a reasonable cost?
Instead of devoting time and money to day-to-day security, outsourcing that part to your NOC can help you free up precious internal resources and improve service efficiency.
Your NOC is a provider with the expertise, equipment, and technology to maintain the highest standards. This allows you to assign your employees to more critical tasks.
When you look for a company to outsource NOC services, consider not only the cost but service efficiency as well. Also, take the time to make a good Service Level Agreement (SLA).
How do you avoid overly complex monitoring?
Build intelligence into your approach – consolidate monitoring systems and databases.
By doing so, your engineers can guarantee good service from a relatively limited number of systems. This allows them to inform customers accurately about the progress of the malfunction and enable them to be proactive if they have noticed something the customer has not seen yet.
In this stage, you need to first prioritise and classify alerts, then send the right alerts to the right people.
Are there better ways to anticipate incidents/peaks?
Use a service framework like the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) principles to better anticipate incidents.
Effective incident management enables your NOC staff to fix what is broken as quickly as possible. When a trigger sets off an alarm or an engineer or service employee reports an incident, tickets are allocated based on skill set, knowledge, and availability, the (technical) back office analyses and finds a technical solution or works around and then closes the incident.
Also, check with your supplier if you can make ‘reservations’ for extra bandwidth for your customers. That way, when there is a sudden increase in data usage, you do not waste time looking for extra capacity.
How do you cultivate a good team in your NOC?
Find creative ways to stay in close contact with NOC team members working in shifts, especially during pandemic restrictions.
Cultivating and motivating is a big challenge: creating mutual trust, respect, fun, and hard work are the basis to work effectively together. You need to find teammates that will fit into the culture of your company, often with a no-nonsense attitude and a good mix between technical nerd and customer-oriented (and perhaps no 9-5 hours mind-set.)
How do you develop yourself as a NOC manager?
Develop your personal skills to guide your NOC and individuals in your group.
As a NOC manager, you must deal with difficult situations clearly, assign responsibilities and encourage others to trust the process. Professional training could be useful. For instance, the “Kepner-Tregoe” thought processes could help you develop an in-depth understanding of Situation Assessment, Problem Analysis, Decision Analysis, Potential Problem Analysis and Potential Opportunity Analysis.
How do you find the sweet spot of your capacity?
Consider a Pay-as-you-Grow model.
It is important to find the sweet spot of your capacity before you commit to a fixed model. A Pay-as-you-Grow model helps you test a new location or expand capacity in an existing market with no minimum commitment or contract term. Once you feel you have enough data, you can then easily convert to a commitment-based price structure at a sustainable and predictable price level
Where do you find suppliers you can trust?
Choose suppliers based on the quality of their network and service excellence.
Make sure you have a clearly defined list of qualifiers in mind when you look for a new supplier. The quality of their network is important. Some suppliers provide services that allow you to test the speed of the network and determine the shortest paths, giving you insights into the backbone infrastructure in your specified region. Customer service is equally important. A good indicator is who picks up the phone or responds to your mail and how well and how quickly they know how to help you.
How Liberty Global can help to tackle these challenges?
Liberty Global is a Tier-1 player with direct connections with all major Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs) ensuring the fastest and shortest routes for your traffic with an availability rate of 99.95%.
Liberty Global’s current IP Transit services support 20 million broadband connections in Europe and safely carry huge amounts of traffic for each of our users every day.