The Argument for Physical NOCs

There has been an ongoing debate in the managed services profession about the best way to set up and deploy a network operations center (NOC). Traditional or physical NOCs gave way to virtual NOCs and MSPs have been arguing over the best method ever since.

A recent decision by IBM could add some fuel for those who argue for a physical NOC as the best way to extract value from your NOC team investment. Let's take a closer look.

IBM Brings Workers Back to the Office

IBM Australia recently decided that remote workers were not as productive as they could be; they were less fulfilled as well, working predominantly in a remote environment. The specific phraseology used by IBM Australia was "increased teaming and physical and emotional connections.” IBM is a massive company with thousands of employees spread out all over the world. Attracting and keeping talent must be a key goal for the company.

While technology undoubtedly allowed IBM (and other organizations) to have remote workforces, it begs the question whether it is advisable and what is the cost for that convenience. For a company the size of IBM to bring its remote workers back into the office indicates there are considerable advantages to both the employee and the employer.

I think these advantages also apply specifically, but not exclusively, to MSPs and their NOCs.

The Allure of the Virtual NOC

It is my opinion that the virtual NOC came about primarily due to cost. Mostly smaller MSPs, trying to compete with larger service providers, would look at a virtual NOC as a critical advantage in that strategy.

First came the removal of the service delivery infrastructure from the MSP's environment into the cloud, compared to the telco and "traditional MSP" model of housing all the monitoring and management systems within the NOC environment. The next change was the de-centralization of the NOC team members. De-centralization was done, in my opinion, mostly to cut down on the costs of physically securing and constructing costly NOC facilities.

We have written extensively about the differences between NOCs but the purpose of our discussion today is the advantages organizations (such as IBM Australia) are recognizing be having employees back in the office. For MSPs with virtual NOCs, there could be disadvantages to having NOC teams working remotely (i.e., remote workers vs. having multiple NOCs in different geographic locations).

IBM Australia's stated reasons appear to be mostly for the benefit of the employee. Being isolated comes with a price. Lack of human interaction, nobody to talk to or collaborate with, all can weigh on a person. The added pressures of working in an isolated home environment can lead to shorter careers with the MSP, increased employee dissatisfaciton, and ultimately poorer customer service.

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Oscar Wilde may have been on to something here. MSPs need to come up with a reasonable solution for dealing with keeping NOC team members productive and happy. Despite what some employees may think, working from home may not be the best solution.

What are your thoughts?

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4 Responses to The Argument for Physical NOCs

  1. David says:

    If your MSP practice is large enough to justify the minimum 7 staff to provide 24×7 coverage, having an in-house NOC might make sense, but realistically you’re talking about a $1M investment. I would also differentiate between a Virtual NOC and an Outsourced NOC Services Provider. A Virtual NOC, as you describe it, sounds more like remote workers working from home (on-call). An Outsourced NOC Services Provider on the other hand, brings expertise, experience and solutions to bear at a fraction of the cost. For that same $1M, you could likely have them monitor 5,000+ hosts and associated metrics. For smaller MSPs, the value is even greater. While I’ve only been in the NOC business for the last 16 years, for what it’s worth, that’s my 2 cents.

  2. nieronet says:

    I´m a firm believer of “virtualizing” everything, that is possible to. Working with less own infrastructure as possible and focusing on the core competency is the most important advantage for smaller MSPs in the digital age. It saves a lot of money, without loosing quality. Also, remote teams work very well in my experience, but you need discipline in those teams.

    “It is my opinion that the virtual NOC came about primarily due to cost. Mostly smaller MSPs, trying to compete with larger service providers, would look at a virtual NOC as a critical advantage in that strategy.”: This is our problem, we don´t have a large vNOC market over here.

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