What is a NOC (Network Operations Center)? Complete Guide

Beginner’s Corner



Apr. 3, 2024
5 min. read

From what a NOC is and what it entails, to how it enables telecoms and other organizations to monitor and maintain optimal performance in their networks, this guide will teach you everything there is to know about a network operations center (NOC).

What is NOC (Network Operations Center)?

NOC (pronounced “knock”) stands for network operations center and is a central hub for monitoring and managing the digital infrastructure of computer, telecommunication, and satellite networks that need reliable, constant connectivity. NOCs exist in many industries such as telecommunications, transportation, manufacturing, and financial services. Data centers are also increasingly setting up NOCs to manage their networks.

Organizational Structure of a Network Operations Center

Besides being a physical location where network monitoring and management happens, a network operations center is an organizational unit and typically operates on a role-based structure.

The NOC Manager oversees all aspects, including operations, staffing, education, administration, process improvement, and acts as an escalation point. In larger NOCs, the Manager is supported by NOC shift coordinators/senior engineers responsible for specific shifts, coordinating activities, managing incidents, and contributing to process enhancement.

Monitoring and troubleshooting tasks are carried out by NOC engineers and technicians, following a tiered hierarchical model. Initial tier technicians handle common issues, escalating unresolved ones to higher-skilled technicians or NOC engineers. Specialized groups within the NOC may manage specific digital infrastructure components, although this is more common in very large organizations.

There may be specialized roles in the NOC. For instance, the role of infrastructure performance analysts focuses on continuous infrastructure health improvement, such as enhancing network performance to prevent future outages.

These facilities, each specializing in specific areas, contribute data to a central NOC, consolidating key alarms and performance metrics to oversee the entire digital infrastructure.

No matter how they’re set up, the fact that network operations centers keep growing reflects the constant integration of digital systems into our lives. It’s clear that a NOC plays an integral role in managing agile and scalable networks.

Key Components of a Network Operations Center

Now let’s look at some key elements that constitute a NOC and how they ensure continuous and seamless network monitoring and management.

NOC rooms and video wall

A typical NOC layout is a spacious room with dedicated workspaces for engineers. A hallmark of every NOC is its video wall. Beyond its initial glamourous impression, it serves as a crucial component for real-time monitoring of digital infrastructure Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

The video wall provides context behind issues, particularly in crises requiring swift emergency responses, and fosters teamwork within the NOC. Additionally, it includes speakers for sound notifications during significant events.

Physical access control

Given that the NOC is a command center, it makes sense that not everyone should have unrestricted access. Therefore, physical access control, security measures, and safeguards against flooding, earthquakes, and fires are vital considerations in NOC facility design.

Redundant power supply and network connectivity

Power supply disruptions are a major cause of network outages. Hence, a NOC facility should feature redundant and independent power supplies, including uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems and backup generators. This ensures that the NOC remains operational even during disasters or unforeseen events.

Similar principles apply to the NOC’s network design, which should prioritize high availability. It is advisable to have independent access to at least two major network sections, ensuring redundant connectivity with the essential parts of the network.

NOC assurance software

A NOC provides the assurance of digital infrastructure through dedicated tools for monitoring, analysis, and automated remediation. Collaborating with other units, the NOC commonly accesses helpdesk tools like ticketing. Well-organized NOCs employ umbrella assurance software for consolidated monitoring and incident data management, enriched with key technical and administrative details. Assurance automation is crucial, saving time for engineers and accelerating troubleshooting.

The software must feature a flexible reporting engine automating report creation to provide more time for troubleshooting. Access to the Configuration Management Database (CMDB), resource inventory data, and various network topologies is vital for troubleshooting. Outage forensics requires documenting active issues and resolutions, and therefore, the software must support documenting activities in the NOC. Dedicated collaboration tools largely help cooperation between NOC and outer units.

Just as the NOC facility requires redundancy, the same applies to NOC software. High-availability design, often on virtual platforms, ensures recovery from hardware failures. Geo-redundant deployments are crucial for seamless operation during data center outages, especially when the NOC is most needed.

NOC processes and standard operating procedures

NOC processes typically align with ITIL, TM Forum, and other best practices, covering incident, problem, change, and service level management. Organizations vary in process execution, with a key aspect being the operationalization of processes through Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

For instance, a SOP may mandate opening a ticket for each alarm, but this may not always be efficient. Continuous review by managers is essential for optimal NOC performance. While SOPs are crucial, overemphasis can hinder engineers in unforeseen situations. Some freedom allows for inventive procedures to be added as SOPs.

For example, when considering dispatching a field technician a SOP should minimize unnecessary dispatches. Well-designed SOPs, such as confirming a power outage before dispatching a technician for an unresponsive network device, significantly reduces operational costs.


How Does a Network Operations Center (NOC) Work?

The operation of NOCs is best described through their various functions but listing all of them is challenging due to subtle variations among NOCs in different organizations. The most significant differences emerge between NOCs in telecom organizations and those in enterprise organizations. However, the natural evolution of NOCs will likely lead to minimal differences between these two types in the future, as both telecom and enterprise organizations progress towards becoming Digital Service Providers (DSPs).

Constant monitoring of the whole infrastructure

Digital infrastructure is inherently imperfect, with faults and degradations occurring regularly. As it grows in size and complexity, these issues become more frequent. Therefore, to maintain the infrastructure in optimal condition, the NOC continuously monitors various components such as:

  • Communication networks (fixed, wireless, mobile; access, core, transport, customer premises equipment),
  • Service platforms (voice, email, web, IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, etc.),
  • Data centers (access control, cooling and air conditioning, batteries, physical servers, data storage, DC's network infrastructure),
  • Power supplies (utility grid supply, backup generators, UPSs, PDUs, power redundancy systems, etc.),
  • Physical security and network security (the latter provided by SOC).

Responding to incidents and fixing issues

Monitoring involves detecting faults (represented as alarms) and measuring performance, crucial for identifying current or impending degradations that may lead to faults. Constant monitoring is the first step in the incident-handling process.

When an alarm is raised and a fault is detected, the NOC must react promptly to determine the cause. Once identified, the NOC will apply a remote configuration or software fix (such as resetting a port or rerouting network traffic) or dispatch a technician to change or fix a malfunctioning physical component.

The shorter the time from fault detection to isolation, localization, and resolution (e.g., minimizing Mean Time to Repair or MTTR), the better the NOC’s performance becomes.


Effectively communicate internally and externally

Effective communication is vital when issues arise, involving collaboration with other parts of the organization, suppliers, and customers (internal or external). When infrastructure relies on external suppliers, close communication with their NOCs or helpdesks is essential. For instance, if an upstream internet provider faces challenges, a NOC's proactive approach can prompt quicker resolution. Similarly, for internal faults, coordination within the NOC, communication with field technicians, and interaction with various departments are crucial. However, the most pivotal communication channel is with internal and external customers. Understanding the psychological impact is vital—keeping customers informed about issue resolution significantly reduces worry and frustration. A well-equipped NOC must detect affected customers and possess effective channels for informative updates, aligning with a customer-centric philosophy.

Constant collaboration with helpdesks, customer call centers, field technicians, partners

The incident handling process involves various organizational units and end customers, making the NOC just one component of the broader incident management framework. Close collaboration between the NOC, helpdesk, and customer call centers is crucial to address customer complaints and associate them with alarms for a comprehensive understanding of the problem.

When physical intervention is necessary, the NOC acts as the command center, coordinating field technicians, logistics, partners, and customers. In this context, the NOC's organizational aspects, processes, and collaborative mentality are as vital as engineering skills, surpassing the importance of facilities and supporting software and hardware.

Coordinate disaster recovery situations

Organizations prioritizing customer satisfaction and operational resilience establish Business Continuity (BC) and Disaster Recovery (DR) processes. While a NOC typically doesn't design these processes, it executes them. For BC, this involves monitoring data backup processes and initiating data recovery in case of failure. DR processes, less frequent and more complex, may be triggered by scenarios like data center shutdowns. A NOC, equipped with carefully designed software, hardware, and a highly available network, coordinates and executes these activities, emphasizing the need for a supportive NOC infrastructure.

Pre-emptive action, preventive maintenance, SLOs

While often seen as “firefighters,” the NOC's primary goal is proactive network assurance, preventing failures through constant monitoring and preemptive actions. For instance, if a NOC anticipates a critical increase in processor load, immediate actions like a system reboot or a software update are essential. Monitoring systems detect such situations, but NOC staff execute the necessary actions.

NOCs establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as Service Level Objectives (SLO) to gauge performance. Approaching critical values prompts proactive measures to prevent SLO violations, such as involving preemptive actions or system modifications.

In well-designed infrastructures, achieving SLOs is seamless with diligent preventive maintenance, conducted at scheduled intervals. The responsibility for preventive maintenance varies. NOCs in smaller organizations handle it themselves while larger organizations often assign it to core network or data center teams.

Operational and management reporting

A challenging task for a NOC is generating operational and management reports, vital for informing both management and operational staff. Automation is possible with a well-defined reporting system and templates. However, a human-readable incident report remains a challenge, but progress is being made through Generative AI technology, aiming to automate this task partially or fully.


NOC processes and infrastructure design, implementation, and maintenance

Beyond tending to digital infrastructure and customer processes, the NOC prioritizes continuous self-improvement. This involves enhancing monitoring processes, fault resolution procedures, knowledge database updates, ticket handling, and communication procedures. The NOC achieves this through ongoing training for engineers, including onboarding new hires. These processes rely on the NOC infrastructure, encompassing facilities, software, and hardware. While the NOC defines requirements, ensures quality, and maintains part of the infrastructure, the very design, implementation, and some maintenance tasks are typically delegated to other organizational units.

NOC’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Measuring and reporting some typical KPIs helps understand how well a NOC works. While the choice of KPIs is vast, there are some typical ones being used in the industry. They include the following KPIs that correspond to targets defined by SLOs:

  • Infrastructure availability – percentage of time with no interruptions within a month or a year
  • Mean incident resolution time
  • Mean time to repair (MTTR)
  • Number of incidents detected and resolved
  • Average cost of labor per resolved incident
  • Average number of active critical alarms
  • Average capacity utilization
  • Number of missed business continuity actions (e.g., backups)
  • Number and ratio of successful field technician interventions
  • Knowledge base utilization
  • Number of pre-emptive actions taken
  • Average number of documented actions for incident
  • Pondered network utilization and other performance metrics
  • And many others

Of course, organizations differ in prioritization of different objectives, and the actual choice and detail of selected KPIs differ significantly.

Benefits of a Well-Functioning NOC

There are numerous benefits that a NOC provides compared to unstructured care of a digital infrastructure’s health, and they include:

  • Better network performance
  • Less downtime
  • Rapid incident resolution
  • Proper performance and incident reporting
  • Optimized digital infrastructure
  • Pre-emptive remediation
  • Lower costs of infrastructure operations
  • And many others

However, the primary and paramount advantage of having a NOC lies in its positive impact on an organization's business. Regardless of whether a NOC is in the telecom sector or a robust IT-focused enterprise, delivering top-notch service to end customers is pivotal. The service excellence achieved sets an organization apart from competitors in the market, yet a high standard is unattainable without a NOC.

The commitment of an organization to establish a NOC profoundly affects the quality of digital services rendered, consequently influencing the perceived quality of an organization's products and, in turn, impacting revenue.


In-house, Outsourced or Hybrid NOC

NOCs can be in in-house, outsourced, or a hybrid form of the two. What the NOC needs to achieve, who would provide the service and associated costs are all factors to consider.

For national telecom operators, an in-house NOC is common, although sometimes a parent organization owns it. In enterprise IT, outsourcing to a specialized third-party NOC might be cost-effective for complex infrastructures.

Another option is a hybrid NOC, utilizing an in-house NOC during peak hours and outsourcing during less active periods. Choosing between these options requires a thorough cost/benefit analysis based on specific needs and circumstances.


While a NOC primarily focuses on network and IT infrastructure health, organizations are increasingly prioritizing the assurance of digital services and robust security measures. The acronym SOC (pronounced “sock”) now enters the picture.

With regard to a NOC, SOC has two meanings:

  • Security Operations Center
  • Service Operations Center

A Security Operations Center (SOC) monitors, detects, responds to, and mitigates cybersecurity threats, collaborating with a NOC to enhance threat detection efficiency. In contrast, a Service Operations Center (SOC) monitors digital services, addressing issues and dissatisfied customers to enhance overall service quality.

A NOC must collaborate with SOCs for optimal performance across digital infrastructure, security, services, and customer satisfaction (both internal and external).

The Future of Network Operations Centers (NOCs)

Here is a list of the trends we see today that will most probably become standard elements of future NOCs:

  • Autonomous Assurance: Automation and AI, especially generative AI, will enhance NOC operations, allowing engineers to focus on complex issues while relieving daily stress.
  • AI-Based Anomaly Detection: Increasingly detecting anomalies before faults occur will improve digital infrastructure's availability and reliability.
  • AI-Based Predictive Analysis: Machine learning aids in predicting infrastructure components' future behavior, enabling pre-emptive actions and enhancing performance.
  • Integration with Security Operations: NOC and Cybersecurity SOC will likely merge, creating a unified approach for infrastructure assurance and cybersecurity.
  • Cloud-Native: NOC software's shift to being cloud-native ensures faster scalability, easy migration between cloud providers, and alignment with industry standards like TM Forum's Open Digital Architecture.

Where do I go from here?

In this blog post, we laid the groundwork for what is a Network Operations Center (NOC). One thing we can do now is show you how UMBOSS, an umbrella network and service assurance product, already helps organizations improve their NOC operations and take them to the next level of efficiency.

Interested in discovering more?

You can read all you want about UMBOSS, but the best way is to experience it through a demo.