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The Virtual NOC Operator, Part III – Using Automation to Resolve the Top 5 NOC Issues

The Virtual NOC Operator, Part III – Using Automation to Resolve the Top 5 NOC IssuesMaintaining a 24/7 well-functioning Network Operation Center (NOC) is not an easy task to accomplish under normal circumstances. Add in the complexity of doing so during a global pandemic while simultaneously minimizing disruption and maximizing efficiency, and you’ve got quite the challenge on your hands. In the last of our three-part blog series, we’d like to help you rise to that challenge by identifying the five biggest issues NOC’s face and how you can use automation to resolve them.

Busy shifts and short-staffed situations

The NOC is typically a pretty chaotic place: there is always an incident to escalate, a service to restore or a report to produce, and all that while having to continuously monitor other services. Unfortunately, there’s not always enough manpower to accomplish all of these tasks successfully (especially given the current pandemic situation). With IT process automation, you can quickly and easily build automated workflows that will help carry a significant portion of the daily workload, even with limited staff.

Take for example a situation of a critical application that crashes twice a week and the solution is to remotely connect to a server and restart a service. The NOC operator has to open the procedure every time, check the server name, verify the service name and then start connecting to the server. This process can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, and that’s assuming that the operator noticed the alert right away. With automation, the entire process could be carried out autonomously in less than a minute, including sending an email to the application’s manager and updating a ticket.

Time-consuming daily tasks

The NOC is responsible for carrying out many day-to-day tasks – reports production, manual monitoring, or preventative activities, such as disk space cleanup and service resets. Naturally, executing all of these tasks is very time consuming and prevents NOC team members from getting ahead with other projects that could potentially advance the team. Alternatively, you can map out all tasks that have to be executed every shift, daily or weekly, and take the load off of your people by automating them.

Lack of technical knowledge

Not all NOC members necessarily have the same technical skills and knowledge. Therefore, some people might have more difficulties while handling an incident with a solution that requires advanced troubleshooting skills. The best solution in these cases is to have an expert to solve the problem for you: an expert can identify all troubleshooting steps and all possible options, and create an automated workflow that solves the problem perfectly every time.

Incidents not solved within the NOC

Many times the NOC is required to escalate incidents to other teams who are more qualified to handle them, or who possess the necessary permissions to solve them. When you automate such solutions, you can save the valuable time of a higher-tier team, or to avoid contacting on-calls in the middle of the night (which is always an unpleasant task). Another option is to semi-automate the workflow, meaning, that it can communicate with whoever is on-call while making important decisions.

Escalation process is unclear or complicated to follow

The point at which an escalation is required can get confusing due to the complexity of the escalation procedure, or the fact that each service/system requires a different procedure. During a busy shift, or when staff is short-handed, it can be quite difficult to keep track of the time that has passed from the previous step of the escalation, and which steps were already executed. This is especially the case when there are several open incidents at the same time.

Automating the escalation processes of frequent incidents or top services will prevent the confusion and ensure that your customers get their information correctly and on time – every time.

These are certainly trying times indeed. But as we rise up to face these evolving challenges, technology is at the helm to help us weather the storm. Don’t go it alone. Download your free trial of Ayehu and get your NOC on the path to a brighter, more successful future.

The Virtual NOC Operator, Part II – Leveraging Zero-Level Support for Your Organization

The Virtual NOC Operator, Part II - Leveraging Zero-Level Support for Your Organization

Last week, we shared the first of our three-part blog series covering the use of automation to augment and enhance the network operation center. Given the current situation, both from an economic as well as human wellness standpoint, businesses across the globe have been forced to adapt and evolve much faster than many may have liked. For some, remote work has quickly become standard practice. For others, finding ways to operate on limited resources has become the focus.

In either case, running a successful IT operations requires achieving as much efficiency as possible. Unfortunately, that comes at a cost. The good news is, there is a way to accomplish the majority of the work of lower-level NOC operations without requiring the additional personnel. With IT process automation, this is more than just a possibility – it’s completely achievable! It’s called zero-level support and it’s something that could potentially revolutionize your IT operations – especially during these trying times. Here’s how.

Level 1 NOC operations is typically the first line of contact for the end-user when an IT problem arises. As a result, this team handles many tasks that become routine and repetitive, which ultimately takes up a great deal of time that could be more effectively allocated elsewhere. IT process automation eliminates this waste of time and resources by taking these repetitive manual tasks and automating them, essentially freeing up the level 1 NOC personnel to be able to focus on other tasks that cannot be automated. In fact, up to 80% of first level NOC operations can be automated.

Some of the level 1 tasks that can be automated include:

  • Monitoring tickets, notifications and alerts and escalating issues
  • Ticket troubleshooting
  • Restart services, password resets, disk space cleanup
  • Updates and documentation

When these routine tasks are no longer required to be handled manually, level 1 employees become empowered to do more complex tasks normally handled by level 2 NOC, which in turn allows higher level teams to take on more responsibility. In situations for which IT operations is functioning on a skeleton crew, IT process automation can handle much of the heavy lifting, taking the burden off existing staff while enabling them to keep the lights on.

And, as things eventually begin to settle down and normalize, automation also makes the important job of staffing much easier for NOC managers. When an organization has the right technology in place, hiring a team of IT professionals no longer requires the presence of all the skills and capabilities as it would if the workload were to be completed manually. Because so many of the manual tasks are handled by the software, the employees don’t necessarily have to possess the lengthy list of skills and experience they once may have in order to qualify.

Essentially, automation technology can eliminate the need to find employees that possess many of the skills previously required for these types of jobs. This allows managers to seek candidates that have other important business skills, creating a more robust team of professionals.

What all of this basically boils down to is that with IT process automation, technology can essentially become your foundation of support – otherwise known as zero level. This makes the jobs of the other levels – from the 1st level up – as well as the management responsible for assembling highly effective, talented teams, much easier and much more efficient. This can ultimately benefit your entire organization as a whole.

Could your NOC benefit from IT process automation? The best way to find out for sure is to try it for yourself. Click here to download your free 30-day trial of Ayehu NG and let zero-level support help your organization navigate through these challenging times.

The Virtual NOC Operator, Part I – Using Automation to Keep Your Network Fully Operational

The Virtual NOC Operator, Part I – Using Automation to Keep Your Network Fully Operational

With the current world health crisis forcing more organizations to enable employees to work from home, and industry analysts forecasting a year or more until we return to “normal” (whatever that may actually look like), businesses across the globe are scrambling to minimize disruption as much as possible.

This is impacting NOC staff as much as everyone, perhaps even more-so, given the fact that they are used to working in a ‘war-room’ type setting in which everyone is physically present. This will inevitably need to change. Thankfully, technology like IT process automation is here to lessen the blow.

Whether you work in a dedicated Network Operations Center (NOC) or operate something similar as part of a team that processes incoming tickets, you’ve probably already heard about the concept of NOC automation. Perhaps you’ve bought into the idea that this technology will all but eliminate the need for human workers. This isn’t necessarily the case, per se, but it can provide the augmentation and virtual support to not only get your organization through this crisis, but thrive well beyond it.

In part one of our three part blog series, we’ll be exploring five ways to keep your network fully operational, despite the critical external circumstances we’re all experiencing. Read on to learn more.

Enable Self-Service End-User Support

NOCs and their smaller counterparts handle an incredibly high number of tickets on a daily basis. Logic predicts that the greater the volume of tickets, the more challenging it becomes to do your job effectively. Given the current situation, demand for IT support is through the roof.

With NOC automation, much of the repetitive day-to-day tasks can be shifted to machine and the entire alert process can be streamlined and optimized. Add in the option of self-service automation, which allows the end-user to handle many of their own simple requests, like password resets, and the skilled IT pros are suddenly freed up to apply their time and talent to more mission-critical tasks.

Enhance Communication

When an incident occurs in a busy NOC environment, it’s alarmingly easy for the process to hit a bottleneck or become lost in the shuffle, especially during a worldwide pandemic. The front-line employee may initiate a request immediately, but if that process isn’t managed properly, there’s no telling where it will go from there. NOC automation is specifically designed to streamline the notification and escalation process so that everything moves through the pipeline in a smooth, timely manner.

When IT staff responds to a notification, an automatic follow-up message can be triggered after a pre-defined timeframe. When the problem is resolved, the incident is closed and a recovery notification is distributed. If the problem remains open, an alert is automatically sent to the system administrator for further review and attention. This ensures that the lines of communication always remain open and flowing freely to eliminate costly delays.

Improve Incident Management

When an incident is triggered and a NOC employee is available to handle it, there’s usually no issue. But what happens if that person isn’t available, or doesn’t have the capacity to respond in a timely manner, such as is frequently the case with work-from-home arrangements? The risk of a ticket sitting in limbo is greatly increased without some type of automated strategy in place. When NOC automation is implemented, the incident management process is much more efficient.

When an incident is triggered, the appropriate representative is notified. Here’s where technology really makes a difference. Should that person fail to respond in a specified amount of time, the system automatically escalates the incident to the next person in line, and so on. Furthermore, notifications and responses can be sent in a variety of ways, including email and SMS, which makes the entire process easier.

Better Insight for Improved Best Practices

NOC teams that perform at their best recognize that it requires continuous process improvement to stay a step ahead of the game. This is achieved through detailed, strategic reporting and analysis. Done manually, this can be a bear to perform and is probably at the top of the list of the least enjoyable tasks.

The good news is, NOC automation is capable of enhanced tracking and reporting, which means that the necessary data will be available ad-hoc at the click of a button. Advanced analytics can then be performed to help identify and develop best practices for ongoing success and future improvement.

Escalation to Management or Clients

Depending on the type of service your NOC provides, keeping customers in the loop on the status of incidents may be a requirement. Furthermore, those in leadership roles within your organization, including executive management and possibly even specified shareholders, should be kept abreast of the status of things like significant outages. In either of these cases, figuring out who needs to know what, who will be in charge of spearheading this communication and executing an open dialogue can be a challenging and time-consuming task.

With NOC automation, alerts can be automatically sent to designated parties so they are kept in the loop and workflows can be set up to notify other business stakeholders about critical incidents. Additionally, in-depth reports on incident resolution performance and mean time to repair (MTTR) can be generated to satiate management and keep them in-the-know, reducing the need for follow-ups and manual status reports.

In conclusion, NOC automation is not poised to take over and replace human workers, but rather it is designed to enhance and complement the skilled personnel working within. And at a time when the world is busy trying to navigate through a crisis of epic proportions, relying on technology has never been more important.  

Want to experience for yourself just how these benefits can play out in your NOC? Start a free trial of Ayehu NG today by clicking here.

Bridging the NOC and SOC for an Integrated IT Powerhouse

The similarities between the role of the Network Operation Center (NOC) and Security Operation Center (SOC) often lead to the mistaken idea that one can easily handle the other’s duties. Furthermore, once a company’s security information and event management system is in place, it can seem pointless to spend money on a SOC. So why can’t the NOC just handle both functions? Why should each work separately but in conjunction with one another? Let’s take a look a few reasons below.

First, their roles are subtly but fundamentally different. While it’s certainly true that both groups are responsible for identifying, investigating, prioritizing and escalating/resolving issues, the types of issues and the impact they have are considerably different. Specifically, the NOC is responsible for handling incidents that affect performance or availability while the SOC handles those incidents that affect the security of information assets. The goal of each is to manage risk, however, the way they accomplish this goal is markedly different.

The NOC’s job is to meet service level agreements (SLAs) and manage incidents in a way that reduces downtime – in other words, a focus on availability and performance. The SOC is measured on their ability to protect intellectual property and sensitive customer data – a focus on security. While both of these things are critically important to the success of an organization, having one handle the other’s duties can spell disaster, mainly because their approaches are so different.

Another reason the NOC and SOC should not be combined is because the skillset required for members of each group is vastly different. A NOC analyst must be proficient in network, application and systems engineering, while SOC analysts require security engineering skills. Furthermore, the very nature of the adversaries that each group battles differs, with the SOC focusing on “intelligent adversaries” and the NOC dealing with naturally occurring system events. These completely different directions result in contrasting solutions which can be extremely difficult for each group to adapt to.

A new set of problems arise, however, when the two teams become siloed, with each group focused on only half of the equation. The resulting gap, particularly in terms of data that is not being shared, perpetuates an even broader gap in the necessary knowledge to maximize the effectiveness of each team. Efforts by the SOC that fail to take into account operational requirements or efficiencies cause bottlenecks that can result in a disruption in network performance. Likewise, fingers can be pointed at the NOC for implementing network designs that leave critical resources exposed and vulnerable.

The best solution is to respect the subtle yet fundamental differences between these two groups and leverage a quality automation product to link the two, allowing them to collaborate for optimum results. The ideal system is one where the NOC has access to the SIEM, so they can work in close collaboration with the SOC and each can complement – rather than impede – the other’s duties. The SOC identifies and analyzes issues, then recommends fixes to the NOC, who analyzes the impact those fixes will have on the organization and then modifies and implements accordingly.

So, what’s the best way to achieve this cross-functional collaboration and optimization? The most important goal is to eliminate operational and/or technical silos. By leveraging a cross-silo intelligent automation platform, security incidents can be detected and resolved while events simultaneously trigger automatic changes both to security as well as network device configurations. This essentially closes the loop on cyberattack mitigation while effectively bridging the distance between security and ops teams.

As the IT environment introduces increasingly complex applications and workflows across a spectrum of systems and devices, and oftentimes in a variety of different locations, the demand for a more streamlined, holistic approach also continues to grow. The time has come to rethink the way the NOC and SOC work together. With an orchestrated approach, powered by intelligent automation, organizations will be able to close the gap between the two departments to more effectively address today’s multifaceted threats, regardless of where they happen to occur within the network.

Ayehu NG is an intelligent IT Automation and Orchestration platform built for the digital era. As an agentless platform, Ayehu is easily deployed, allowing organizations to rapidly automate tasks and processes, including interoperability across disparate solutions and systems, all in one, unified platform.

If you’re ready to bridge the gap between your NOC and SOC to create an integrated IT powerhouse, click here to start your free trial.

Will NOC Automation Eliminate the Need for Human Personnel?

Will NOC Automation Eliminate the Need for Human Personnel?Whether you work in a dedicated Network Operations Center (NOC) or operate something similar as part of a team that processes incoming tickets, you’ve probably already heard rumblings about the concept of NOC automation. Perhaps you’ve bought into the idea that this technology will all but eliminate the need for human workers. Maybe you’ve already started brushing up your resume, looked into going back to school or are even thinking of changing career paths. Will NOC automation really replace human personnel? Not quite. In fact, to the contrary, here are five ways it will actually make your job even better.

Avoid Alert Fatigue

NOCs and their smaller counterparts handle an incredibly high number of tickets on a daily basis. Logic predicts that the greater the volume of tickets, the more challenging it becomes to do your job effectively. This is why so many in this field experience burnout, sometimes known as alert fatigue. Furthermore, with so many minor issues being fielded, it can be difficult to focus the appropriate amount of attention on critical situations, which means the entire organization can potentially suffer.

With NOC automation, much of the repetitive day-to-day tasks can be shifted to machine and the entire alert process can be streamlined and optimized. Add in the option of self-service automation, which allows the end-user to handle many of their own simple requests, like password resets, and the skilled IT pros are suddenly freed up to apply their time and talent to more important tasks.

Improve Communications

When an incident occurs in a busy NOC environment, it’s alarmingly easy for the process to hit a bottleneck or become lost in the shuffle. This is especially the case for situations in which escalation is required. The front-line employee may initiate a request immediately, but if that process isn’t managed properly, there’s no telling where it will go from there. NOC automation is specifically designed to streamline the notification and escalation process so that everything moves through the pipeline in a smooth, timely manner.

When IT staff responds to a notification, an automatic follow-up message can be triggered after a pre-defined timeframe. When the problem is resolved, the incident is closed and a recovery notification is distributed. If the problem remains open, an alert is automatically sent to the system administrator for further review and attention. This ensures that the lines of communication always remain open and flowing freely to eliminate costly delays.

Greater Incident Management

When an incident is triggered and a NOC employee is available to handle it, there’s usually no issue. But what happens if that person isn’t available, or doesn’t have the capacity to respond in a timely manner? The risk of a ticket sitting in limbo is greatly increased without some type of automated strategy in place. When NOC automation is implemented, the incident management process is much more efficient.

When an incident is triggered, the appropriate representative is notified. Here’s where technology really makes a difference. Should that person fail to respond in a specified amount of time, the system automatically escalates the incident to the next person in line, and so on. Furthermore, notifications and responses can be sent in a variety of ways, including email and SMS, which makes the entire process easier.

Gain Better Insight for Best Practices

NOC teams that perform best know that it requires continuous process improvement to stay a step ahead of the game. This is achieved through detailed, strategic reporting and analysis. Done manually, this can be a bear to perform and is probably at the top of the list of the least enjoyable tasks. The good news is, NOC automation is capable of enhanced tracking and reporting, which means that the necessary data will be available ad-hoc at the click of a button. Advanced analytics can then be performed to help identify and develop best practices for ongoing success and future improvement.

Escalation to Management or Clients

Depending on the type of service your NOC provides, keeping customers in the loop on the status of incidents may be a requirement. Furthermore, those in leadership roles within your organization, including executive management and possibly even specified shareholders, should be kept abreast of the status of things like significant outages. In either of these cases, figuring out who needs to know what, who will be in charge of spearheading this communication and executing an open dialogue can be a challenging and time-consuming task.

With NOC automation, alerts can be automatically sent to designated parties so they are kept in the loop and workflows can be set up to notify other business stakeholders about critical incidents. Additionally, in-depth reports on incident resolution performance and mean time to repair (MTTR) can be generated to satiate management and keep them in-the-know, reducing the need for follow-ups and manual status reports.

In conclusion, NOC automation is not poised to take over and replace human workers, but rather it is designed to enhance and complement the skilled personnel working within.

Want to see for yourself just how these benefits can play out in your NOC? Start a free trial of eyeShare today by clicking here.





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