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The Next Generation Network Operations Center
A recent survey of 176 IT professionals, along with in-depth interviews with a number of IT professionals, uncovered the fact that over a quarter of network operations centers (NOCs) do not meet their organizations’ current needs. This market research pointed out that the inability of the NOC to identify issues before the user does hurts the overall creditability of the IT organization and that the role of the NOC is often not well understood – even within the IT organization.
The market research, which was sponsored by NetQoS, also showed that while the vast majority of NOCs are undergoing significant change, not all NOCs are starting at the same place in terms of the functionality that they currently provide. In addition, IT organizations do not have a common vision of the structure and functionality of the next generation NOC.
This article will summarize the market research findings. The article will also identify what IT organizations must do to migrate away from the current stove-piped, reactionary NOC and to a proactive Integrated Operations Center (IOC) that effectively supports all components of IT. More details on the market research can be found at the NetQoS website.
RESPONDING TO A TROUBLE
One of the findings of the research is that the help desk typically routes issues that it cannot resolve to the NOC. This is not surprising since three quarters of the survey respondents also indicated that the network is generally assumed to be the source of application response time degradation.
There are also cultural reasons why the help desk typically routes issues that it cannot resolve to the NOC. For example, one of the IT professionals who was interviewed as part of the market research is a network analyst for a manufacturing company and will be referred to in this article as The Manufacturing Analyst. The Manufacturing Analyst stated that in his company, if there is an IT problem, the tendency of the user is to contact the NOC because, “We have always had the tools to identify the cause of the problems.”
Another interviewee is the manager of network management and security for a non-profit organization. He stated that as recently as a year ago his organization had a very defensive approach to operations, with a focus on showing that the network was not the source of a trouble. His current motto is “I don’t care what the problem is, we are all going to get involved in fixing it.” When asked if his motto was widely accepted within the organization he replied, “Some of the mentality is changing, but this is still not the norm.”
WHAT ABOUT ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library)?
There has been significant discussion over the last few years about using a framework such as ITIL to improve network management practices. To probe the use of ITIL, the survey respondents were asked if their organization has an IT service management process like ITIL in place or intends to adopt such a process within the next 12 months. The majority of respondents (62%) indicated that their organizations do have such a process in place. Of those respondents who do not, a similar percentage (63%) believe that their organization will put such a process in place within the next 12 months. The fact that 86% of respondents stated that their organization either have or will have within 12 months a service management process in place indicates the emphasis being placed within the NOC to improve its processes.
While the survey data highlighted the strong interest in ITIL, the interviewees were not as enthusiastic. For example, The Manufacturing Analyst stated that his organization has begun to use ITIL but they “do not live by the [ITIL] book.” He believes ITIL will make a difference, but probably not that big of a difference. In addition, as part of the market research a CIO of a medical supplies company was interviewed, and he will be referred to in this article as The CIO. The CIO said that his organization tried to use ITIL to improve some of its processes. However, while he does not disagree with the benefits promised by ITIL, he finds it to be too theoretical and he lacks the resources to get deeply involved with it.
HOW IS THE NOC PERCEIVED?
One of the most discouraging results of the market research is that only a small majority of Survey Respondents (58%) believes that the role of the NOC is understood by the entire IT organization. This finding will be elaborated on in the section of this article that discusses where NOC personnel spend their time.
The Survey Respondents were asked a series of questions regarding senior IT management’s attitude towards the NOC. The results are shown in Table 1.
TABLE 1 IT Management’s Perception of the NOC