Shrinking NOC With Smart Operations

By Saju Sankarankutty, Chief Technology Officer and Global Head of Cloud, UST Global

sanjuThe first Tier 3 and above Data Center that I visited was in the UK way back in 2003/2004. The DC which was owned and operated by one of the largest banks in the UK was getting a hardware refresh and around 60% of the kit was getting replaced by best in class HP blade servers. The building stood tall somewhere in the outskirts of London but not buried inside the earth unlike some of the modern DC’s which were later constructed by large Data center providers. One of the rooms that were filled with several large screens tossing various figures and facts was the highlight of the building. That was the nerve center of the Datacenter which is known as the Network Operations Center (NOC).

NOC typically manages underlying IT infrastructure within the Datacenter, network & telecom infrastructure and primarily responsible for ensuring the data center availability. This happens through a series of monitoring tools, incidents, ticketing systems, events, changes, reporting, dashboard etc. One of the key things for the success of NOC is the people who are manning these systems and delivering a high-quality support. While NOC was an internal function for enterprises for managing their data centers, managing the varied complex technologies, maintaining the currency of skills required and keeping the costs at manageable levels forced enterprises to outsource this function.

The large IT service providers cashed in on this opportunity and made massive investments for talent, software and real estate to set up the state of the art NOC at nearshore and offshore locations. They were massive facilities with walls hidden by large screens with all sorts of charts and graphs appearing in multiple colors. The guiding principle of these remote operations center was “Eyes on Glass” which means humans will be staring on to the large screens or monitors 24/7 365 days in a year to detect any anomalies in the systems being monitored and analyze those, trigger actions to get the issue resolved. Size of the NOC in terms of real-estate and spread across geographies and the no of operators manning the NOC was a key selection criterion for large Infrastructure outsourcing contracts.

“A modern and innovative IT infrastructure that is agile, secure, flexible and manageable is the foundational platform to support enterprise digital transformation objectives”

Fast forwarding to 2017, enterprises are not building any newer data centers, most of the enterprises have a plan to move out of their data centers in the next few years. Sometime in 2006 Amazon web services debuted its first set of offerings EC2 and S3 and disrupted the corporate Datacenter space. The cloud was born and its transformed the enterprise computing and storage landscape and more than 90% of the enterprise customers consume public cloud services. The game here is not to stack up a bunch of computers and storage devices in a few huge data centers and rent them out to businesses but to custom build every component of the modern cloud data center. This covers the physical aspects of the data center including racks and power & cooling to computers, chipsets and the software to manage them. Every hardware component is now treated as a programmable asset and the software layer makes them smarter and efficient.

The modern cloud environments are extremely automated and every component which constitutes a service like a computer, storage or database is software defined and can be controlled by a piece of code. The data centers hence are being treated as an elastic programmable resource separating the infrastructure deployment completely from operations. The operations included the backend technology operations (TechOps) and the front-end developer operations (DevOps). The most common function within the TechOps included the computer & server operations, network operations, services and device management thereby ensuring reliability, security, and compliance of the IT infrastructure. The programmable assets clubbed with the modern monitoring software solutions provide extremely visibility across infrastructure elements and ease of control/change on the configuration and settings. Autonomic platforms combined with virtual engineers automate the majority of the repetitive tasks bringing automation into the heart of the service delivery. RPA tools available today can create an army of bots that can take over the manual, rules-based IT operations tasks. The AI technologies including the NLP, cognitive reasoning are being used to support and augment the RPA process thereby making the bots learn, be alert, intelligent and efficient.

The disruption is driven by extreme automation, RPA and AI within this space are limiting the involvement of humans only to handle exceptions. While these tools and platforms are not only displacing the need of “Eyes on Glass model” they also drive higher efficiency and quality of service. A clear indication to this trend is data presented during the ISG insights 2017 where the baseline efficiency for TechOps is expected in the range of 35% to 65% and productivity increase by year 2 is expected in the range of 75% to 125%.

A modern and innovative IT infrastructure that is agile, secure, flexible and manageable is the foundational platform to support enterprise digital transformation objectives. Enterprises will continue living in a hybrid environment (datacenters owned or outsourced, Public Cloud – IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) operated, owned and supported by a multitude of providers. The ability to extend automation, RPA and Artificial Intelligence (AI) across these environments will be the key for providing an improved customer experience, securing the interactions and transactions at unprecedented service levels and scale in a cost-effective manner. The criteria for smarter operations has moved away from investments in real-estate and number of operators to investments in building solutions purely front-ended by software machines that can scale non-linearly which are packaged as platforms.

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