Is the NOC (Network Operations Center) still viable according to ITIL?

There are still IT organizations with the Network Operating Center (NOC) name and designation, with varying sets of organizational structures, operating levels, and responsibilities. This raises several very important questions (which are going to be the topic of today’s article):

  • What is an NOC?
  • Is there a place for it in a modern, service-oriented IT organization?
  • How does the NOC fit into the ITIL framework?

What is an NOC?

The answer to this most important question will directly influence the answers of the other two, because the answer depends upon whom are you asking.

The term “NOC” originates from the telecom world, and it is a physical place from which engineers monitor and maintain every aspect of a telecommunications network, from radio tower controllers to billing equipment.

Now comes the hard part… When IT organizations started to become more organized, operations were network- and infrastructure-centric, and so they found the term “NOC” applicable in our line of business. I genuinely believe that first-generation NOCs (within IT organizations) were purely network and infrastructure monitoring centers. But, as time went on and our daily lives became more application-oriented (read more on the ITIL Application Management Lifecycle – within IT Service Lifecycle), it was only logical to include application and service monitoring in the NOC as well.

I guess that some IT organizations still use an NOC in network-only mode, but those must be large organizations where technology siloes are vast and strictly divided, or organizations that are heavily dependent on the network itself.

From my personal experience, if an IT organization is using the term “NOC,” it generally refers to a set of monitoring and alerting tools (network/infrastructure and application), overseen by technicians, which act as some form of first-line support (mostly Help Desk).

Is there a place for the NOC in modern IT organizations?

Again, it depends on what your current IT organization looks like; if IT operations are strictly divided into technological siloes – the answer may be yes. The network team will be responsible for network and network-related issues only, and they’ll have their own tools and equipment dedicated to network monitoring and operations – therefore, the most suitable name may be Network Operations Center.

My personal experience and observations tell me that NOC personnel are handling application requests, server-related requests, LAN, WAN, and security issues as well. It makes sense, because if all IT support and operations are provided by the NOC, we are basically talking about a Service Desk (you can read more about Service Desk here: Service Desk: Single point of contact and here: ITIL Service Desk types).

The Service Desk is a well-described and widely adopted ITIL function, and you can get formal education and training, and find lots of resources on the internet as well on how to set up, organize, and run it according to best practices (ITIL). This brings us to the next question – how does the NOC fit into the ITIL framework?

How does the NOC fit into the ITIL framework?

Within the Service Operation lifecycle, ITIL mentions NOC as a synonym for Operations Bridge, which may also operate as Console Management (lighter version of Operations Bridge).

There are two theories about how the Operations Bridge was so named; it either resembles the bridge of a large ship (think of a battleship, or a spaceship), or a link between IT operations and the traditional Help Desk. Generally, as mentioned before, this function is merged into the Service Desk, which performs both sets of duties. The Operations Bridge will combine many activities, which might include Console Management, event handling, first-line network management, job scheduling, and after-hours support (covering for the Service Desk and/or second-line support groups if they do not work 24/7). In some organizations, the Service Desk is part of the Operations Bridge.

Within ITIL, “NOC” is avoided as a term throughout the service lifecycle, and aside from this “honorable mention,” there are no further references.

Preparations for the future start today

As my professional background is from the core of the telecom business, whenever I hear the term “NOC” I get a strong feeling of nostalgia. NOCs might be rare today, but can be found in a decent number of IT organizations, especially within older companies. That is not unusual, as the telecom business precedes IT; older IT organizations adopted both the terminology and organization of the NOC.

In my honest opinion, within IT organizations of today, the NOC is a thing of the past. Almost 10 years have passed since the ITIL V2 complete glossary was published, with the goal to be more publicly available and affordable, and it’s been four years since the latest ITIL 2011 version. This should be enough time for IT organizations to embrace a proven set of best practices and move away from the time in which Bill Gates said he’s stepping down, MySpace was a thing, people were craving Blackberries, Palms and flip-phones, and Sony and Toshiba started the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war. We know how all of those ended. However, if you still choose to live in that era, I have big announcement for you: Windows Vista will be released next year. 🙂

Check out the free  ITIL Gap Analysis Tool to see how your Service Desk fits with the ITIL recommendation.