We just launched a new video series describing the Fundamentals of OSS/BSS yesterday. One of the videos in the series describes Network Operations Centres (or NOCs) for telcos or network operators. It also provides examples of the OSS/BSS tools and data sets that help to power them.
Whilst creating this video, it dawned on me that we’ve done over 2,500 posts, but none specifically about Network Operations Centres (aka Network Management Centres). A significant oversight that must be addressed!! NOCs are the telco’s nerve centre through which the network is monitored and maintained. They are the ultimate insurance policy for any carrier. It also acts as the first line of defence against cyber-security attacks.
The video above provides a picture of Telstra’s GOC (or Global Operations Centre, which is just a glorified name for a NOC). The one below shows AT&T’s NOC (image courtesy of softwarestudies.com). [More about AT&T’s GNOC in a video later in this article]
In the middle band of the picture above, you’ll notice an impressive video wall with data presented from a number of OSS/BSS. These tend to show rolled-up information that gives a perspective on the current topology, traffic patterns and health of the network. There’s not a lot of red showing, so I’d assume the network was in a fairly healthy state at the time this photo was taken… Either that, or the “green screener” was activated to ensure that any visitors or VIPs weren’t scared off by the number of catastrophes that were being handled / remediated by the network operators. 🙂
Speaking of operators, you’ll notice all the operator pods in the foreground. You can see the workstations, where each operator is enveloped by multiple screens. Like the video wall, each of these operator screens will typically have multiple OSS/BSS applications open at any given point in time. Generally speaking, the operators will be dealing with more granular data-sets via OSS/BSS views on their workstations compared with those shown on the video wall. This is because they’ll be performing more specific tasks such as dealing with a specific device outage and will need to drill down to more detailed data.
Each operator has this wealth of visual real-estate for a reason. Our OSS/BSS gather, generate and process huge amounts of data with updated information arriving all the time. Operators need to pick through all these different data points and derive insights that allow them to perform BAU (Business as Usual) activities. These activities generally focus on assuring the health of the network and the customer services that are carried over that network, but can cover a broader scope too. When things get out of control, they become crisis management centres.
Information can be presented to these operators in a range of different ways depending on the task at hand, whether trying to identify a root-cause of an event / situation through to coordinating routine / preventative maintenance or remedial actions. Note that the second part of the video above gives some examples of OSS/BSS data visualisation techniques to perform these different functions.
Speaking of routine maintenance, many types of routine maintenance activities are coordinated through the NOC. This ensures there’s a coordinated management of the many changes happening during change windows. This includes maintenance of our OSS/BSS tools, which can require regular updates and patching as well as routine administrative activities.
Our OSS and BSS assist NOC operators, mostly across the middle bands of TM Forum’s TAM (represented by blue clusters 7 to 11, plus 12 to 14, in the TAM diagram below), but potentially many others. Operators may also interact closely with the live network devices to retrieve or update device configurations. This might be achieved via command line interfaces (CLI) on devices or via EMS (Element Management Systems) and NMS (Network Management System) tools, which supplement our OSS/BSS.
Due to the complexity, variability and sheer volume of events that the NOC has to handle (and therefore the costs), our OSS/BSS can become an important efficiency engine. OSS / BSS business cases can often be built around the automation of processes, data processing and IT transactions because of the cost-benefit possibilities. The related benefits tend to be driven by human effort reductions, but also in the speed-up of fault resolution times.
This video below, courtesy of AT&T shows some of their OSS/BSS in action on the giant video wall within their NOC:
If you’re wondering about the role of NOC operators and shift managers, a great article can be found describing a day (night) in the life of Paul Harrison, Telstra’s National Emergency Response Manager, who works from the Telstra GOC. As his article highlights, most NOCs are operational 24x7x365, which requires multiple shifts (eg 3 x 8-hour shifts) to ensure 24-hour coverage. That is, they need at least 3 teams of operators to make sure the network and services are being monitored around the clock.
Depending on the functional coverage required at any given organisation, NOCs might also be considered SOCs (Service Operations Centres), SOCs (Security Operations Centes) or other names too. FWIW, In this earlier article, I pose the slightly novel concept of a DOC as well.
Also, if you’re interested, you might like to check out this video of an XR simulation of a NOC that was inspired by AT&T’s control centre. More about this project here. I’d love to get your thoughts on use-cases relating to how this could be applied. Leave us a comment below.
And speaking about mixed reality, I’m excited about how these technologies can be used to improve the command and control functionality of NOCs. Whether that’s in the form of:
- Visual Collaboration – allowing operators in various locations to “see” the same thing (eg a person in the NOC, a worker in the field and an equipment vendor SME all viewing what the field worker can see on-site and discussing the best way to fix the on-site problem)
- Decision Support – providing operators, especially field workers, with information provided by the NOC and/or our OSS/BSS that helps the operator perform their tasks effectively
- Optimised UX – providing operators with OSS/BSS user interfaces (UIs) that are more intuitive and efficient to perform tasks with. Due to the massive amounts of information at NOC operator fingertips from which they have to derive actions, it seems that we need to provide far better UIs for them. Heads-up Displays (HUDs) seem like the natural progression for NOC UIs, so it’s something we’re already investing effort into. Watch this space closely in coming years