Adopting a NOC culture

Telco-grade network performance on a university budget – adopting a Network Operations Centre (NOC) culture can help

By Jeff Curley, Business Solutions Director, Aurora365

Over the last few years the challenge of delivering best practice network performance across the broader university campus has become more and more difficult. For some university network support managers, the task of running the campus infrastructure must often seem like they’re running all the ICT for a whole town due to its complexity, geographical distribution and sheer volume of requirement. 

Compared to the corporate ICT world where there’s a much more consistent demand in terms of users and network activities, today’s evolving university networking environments couldn’t be more dynamic. In corporate networks, for example, guest users are secured and managed within guest Wi-Fi areas that are more often than not download- and upload-rate limited. With universities, the expectations are dramatically different. Today’s students quite rightly expect always-on service and decent performance to get their job of studying done. With most of them using around three devices – laptop, mobile and tablet – university networking teams are faced with the challenge of potentially supporting upwards of 75,000 user devices concurrently!

It’s also fair to say that university network users are much more demanding than their corporate counterparts. Research users have always relied on the power and capacity of the Janet network, but today’s students also now expect a grade of Wi-Fi service that matches consumer expectations. Used to high-speed broadband at home, immediate access to fast Wi-Fi is now a critical part of the overall student experience.

A NOC can play a key role – proactively looking out for potential outage events and facilitating an immediate response

As an infrastructure monitoring partner for many leading UK universities, we’re certainly noting this trend at Aurora365. Demand for an unlimited amount of online resource is placing huge demands on networks and usage patterns are changing. Two years ago, for example, our monitoring profiles showed Netflix as the 14th biggest consumer of university network traffic – now it’s firmly in second place!

Home broadband providers anticipate this kind of demand, and providers such as BT and Vodafone typically invest billions in their network infrastructure to provide the necessary levels of resilience. Universities clearly can’t compete with the kind of ‘telco grade’ performance offered by global network providers; however, there are steps that ICT teams can take to meet service expectations.

Effective service delivery is all about making sure the university ICT team is in a position to react more quickly when issues arise – which they inevitably will. Given the seasonal nature of university life, networks are prone to data traffic floods, so it’s important for IT teams to track all the key performance elements that go towards creating a best practice service.

However, very few universities are ready to make the initial upfront and ongoing investments necessary to ensure all infrastructure components are fully resilient. This can prove a challenge, particularly as the always-on IT experience demanded by today’s connected users effectively depends on organisations operating a failsafe infrastructure. If universities are to succeed in delivering the kind of networking performance that users expect, their service management teams will need to start adopting a Network Operations Centre (NOC) culture. This involves monitoring network performance and identifying potential service degradation before it becomes critical.

It’s important for IT teams to track all the key performance elements that go towards creating a best practice service

This is where an NOC can play a key role – proactively looking out for potential outage events and facilitating an immediate response. For universities that don’t possess the sufficient critical mass to employ full-time monitoring agents in a dedicated 24/7/365 centre, adopting an NOC culture can make a real difference – serving as a focal point for monitoring overall network performance and ensuring uptime. 

It’s an approach that’s already working well for Plymouth University. By implementing a proactive monitoring and remediation service, Plymouth University has secured its IT infrastructure and now benefits from optimal network performance and reliability. 

So while delivering resilient network performance on a university budget is challenging, it really is achievable if you start adopting an NOC culture.


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