IT management, MSP

Network Operations Centers (NOCs), Outsourced Help Desks for MSPs: Competition Heats Up

Competition within the network operations center (NOC) market appears to be heating up. That's likely a good trend for MSPs seeking an outsourced NOC provider. But navigating the options can be a tricky process.

Marius Mihalec
Marius Mihalec

The latest entrant is Pulseway, which unveiled its NOC services for MSPs earlier today. The effort initially involves roughly a dozen support professionals in Ireland and India, according to CEO Marius Mihalec. Pulseway already offers mobile- and cloud-centric RMM (remote monitoring and management) software to MSPs. We're curious to see how many of those RMM partners extend to Pulseway's NOC services.

The NOC business isn't for the faint of heart, especially in the MSP and SMB sectors. After all, SMBs often have a broad range of mobile, desktop, server, network and cloud platforms that require monitoring, management and troubleshooting. In many cases, it's difficult to inspire those SMBs to embrace standardized infrastructure.

Amid that complex reality, plenty of companies have tried -- and failed -- to build their own NOC services for MSPs. Level Platforms, for instance, had a fledging NOC service that never quite caught on; AVG Technologies ultimately acquired the company's RMM platform. (Avast, in turn, has since acquired AVG.)

Still, there are signs of success across the MSP sector. Some companies specialize mostly in outsourced NOCs. Others in outsourced help desk services. And some offer both types of services.

Key names to know include:

Take a closer look and you'll see that it can require serious talent, capital and automation to stand up 24x7 NOC or help desk services for MSPs.

Serious NOC, Help Desk Investments

Consider the situation at Continuum. The company offers RMM, BDR (backup and disaster recovery), NOC and help desk services to MSPs. The help desk has 220 employees and the NOC is approaching 800 employees, according to Rob Autor, senior VP of global service delivery.

Rob Autor
Continuum CEO Michael George

The teams' expertise includes Windows setup and performance, Active Directory, Exchange, Hyper-V, SharePoint and Skype for Business. Similarly, the company has experts in VMware, Citrix and Linux.  The knowhow includes in-depth functional expertise in areas including BDR, networking, patching (Windows and third-party) and information security, Autor asserts.

The Continuum NOC also has a specialized research and development (R&D) team that continuously adds to and refines thousands of Intellimon alerts. Also, dedicated Quality and Voice of Partner teams ensure Continuum is "delivering great service," and a workflow and tools design team rolls out improvements to operations, Autor says.

Before year-end, Continuum will also have two NOC and two help desk locations for redundancy and access to multiple labor pools.

No doubt, ,any companies have tried to build or add offshore NOC operations to existing MSP software tools. "But ours was built from the ground up to capitalize on this fundamental issue," asserts Continuum CEO Michael George. "And no one will ever be able to replicate it without owning both parts -- technology and talent -- of the service delivery equation. We welcome this to be such a well understood challenge for the entire MSP market."

Another NOC Example

Meanwhile, NetEnrich has over 550 people in NOC, service delivery, R&D and engineering roles, according to Justin Crotty, senior VP of channel sales and marketing. 

"This allows us to staff across a very large spectrum of technologies – datacenter, network, UC, cloud, and security," he says. "Partners look to us to extend their technology capabilities – they leverage us for those technologies that they may not have deep expertise in."

The company's services include datacenter infrastructure management, cloud infrastructure management, security operations management, unified communications and network infrastructure management.

Still, people are only part of the equation. The other two critical components involve technology and process, Crotty asserts. "We bring innovative enterprise IT operations technology -- a platform -- to the table as well as over a decade of process engineering and process expertise." Mix in a healthy dose of automation, and NetEnrich drives a consistent service delivery experience while meeting SLAs, he says.

Partnering on the NOC Front

While Continuum and NetEnrich have offered outsourced NOCs for several years, ConnectWise partnered with IT By Design on a formal basis in November 2016. The companies have known and worked with each other for several years ahead of the deal. The NOC relationship is performing well, according to Gavin Gamber, VP of channel sales and alliances at ConnectWise.

Gavin Gamber

“Since we announced a NOC partnership with IT By Design in November, the number of our partners taking advantage of the offering continues to steadily grow each month," Gamber says. "One reason is because we offer so much flexibility in how the NOC can be leveraged. In some cases, our partners use the help desk service for evenings, some for 24/7 support for all servers and networking devices, and others while they are in the process of onboarding a new technician.  Another reason I think we’re seeing growing momentum for our NOC services is because the onboarding process is so easy for our partners and seamless for their clients. IT By Design has been a partner of ConnectWise for years; they are experts in our platform and they understand how an IT Service provider works.”

Who's Next?

No doubt, additional software and cloud companies will introduce NOC services for MSPs. Among the opportunities ahead: Multi-cloud management services, and monitoring services for Docker, application performance monitoring (APM) and plenty more.

Continuum CEO Michael George won't be surprised if more players enter the outsourced NOC market. "As it has been said so well and so many times before -- imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery," George says. "Smart MSPs understand that their greatest challenge constraining growth is the skills gap, a fundamental labor shortage in all first-world economies around the globe."

Long live outsourced NOCs and help desks, and those who successfully scale them.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.