A NOC (Network Operations Center) is a central location where IT teams can continuously monitor the performance and health of a network. The NOC serves as the first line of defense against network disruptions and outages.
The NOC gives organizations a complete view of their network so they can identify anomalies and either take action to prevent problems or quickly resolve issues as they arise. The NOC oversees infrastructure and assets (from cabling to servers), wireless systems, databases, firewalls, various associated network devices (including IoT devices and smartphones), telecom systems, dashboards and reporting. Its responsibilities also include monitoring customer support calls and help desk ticket systems, as well as integrating with customer network tools, making the NOC a key player in ensuring a positive customer experience.
NOCs can be built internally and set up locally, often in the data center. However, this function can also be outsourced to an external company that specializes in monitoring and managing networks and infrastructure. Regardless of the model, NOC staff are responsible for identifying problems and making quick decisions to resolve them.
As we get into the details of NOC operations, it may seem like there is no difference between a Network Operations Center and a helpdesk. (Don’t worry, many people overlook the difference here!) It’s important to recognize that there is a difference and that NOCs and help desks are not the same thing.
The major difference is who these facilities serve. Helpdesks are focused on the end user, while NOCs are for IT providers, IT teams and managed service providers (MSPs). If someone in their office has a problem with their device, they would call a help desk. If someone in the IT department or an MSP needs to communicate with the technicians running the operation remotely behind the scenes, they would call the NOC.
While they may sound similar, there are important differences between a SOC and a NOC. While a NOC covers a broad range of network tasks, a security operations center (SOC) focuses primarily on – you guessed it – security.
A SOC typically uses similar tools to a NOC, but focuses on security-related network activities rather than overall performance. The SOC team is always on the lookout for malicious activity and potential intruders. The SOC is typically responsible for responding to and remediating any cyber threats it encounters.
The NOC staff performs many important IT functions. The most common role is monitoring and reporting on key metrics as part of an ongoing preventive maintenance or support-oriented role. The NOC is also heavily involved in security and continuity efforts, including backup and recovery (BDR) and security logging tasks. In some cases, the NOC may be supported by a Security Operations Center (SOC), which is responsible for 24/7 monitoring of cybersecurity threats or suspicious network activity.