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MSP Network Operations Center (NOC): In-house, Outsourcing Pros and Cons

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Early in my career in IT, I was able to work for a pioneer in the managed services game. Since the MSP model was still a fairly new concept at the time, we definitely figured some things out along the way. For the most part, each IT manager on staff had their own specific clients for whom we handled all maintenance tasks on a set schedule. We would go onsite for a particular amount of time, and take care of all of the issues that had popped up from the last time we visited. As technology and services changed, however, we were able to offload some of the maintenance tasks to a single person on staff who monitored all client servers and workstations. This really freed us up to be more of a proactive leader for each of our clients.

The main issue with the previous set up was that one person was really knowledgeable about what was going on at a particular client, and the rest of the staff was in the dark. Utilizing a Network Operations Center (NOC) really allowed anyone to hop in the system at any time and know exactly how to help, especially if the client's main IT manager was on vacation, or out sick. We called it the "hit by a bus" protection. If an employee were to be hit by a bus, would we have the knowledge needed to support the client, or will it be lost forever in the employee's head?

Much like when we brought on a new hire specifically to manage this NOC, MSPs are currently looking to outsource their NOC to free up staff to concentrate on bigger problems to solve and IT projects to complete. However, there are definitely some advantages and disadvantages for using an outsourced company for your NOC. The advantages for having an outsourced NOC would conversely be the disadvantages of having an onsite one, so we will just list the pros and cons of outsourcing.

Outsourced NOC: Advantages

The flood of tickets that come in every evening from alerts on managed machines can be overwhelming for one person. We used to get hundreds of tickets every day. You have to check each one to see if there is anything to be concerned with, and then either close or handle the ones that do need attention. Tickets from managed services alone can eat up a lot of time, that doesn't require a lot of skill. With an outsourced NOC, a company can offload a lot of that unskilled labor including antivirus scans and clean up, Windows updates, backup monitoring, and more. When an issue is found among the alerts, it can be escalated back to the onsite team for resolution.

The outsourced NOC can also be available to triage issues after hours. When you have onsite staff, there are only so many hours in the day they can work. Most of the time IT issues occur in the middle of the night. These issues aren't found until the morning, right when companies are starting their work for the day. The more quickly an issue can be found, the time-to-resolution in the client's eyes can be drastically reduced. If an issue occurs at 3:00 a.m. and takes 5 hours to fix, someone can start working on it at 3:00 a.m. and it can be fixed by the time employees arrive at 8:00. On the other hand, if the issue isn't discovered until 8:00 a.m. when employees arrive, and it takes 5 hours to fix, the customer could lose a half day of work.

Outsourced NOC: Disadvantages

One of the disadvantages of using an outsourced NOC would be the perceived lack of control and knowledge. The person interacting with a client's network on a regular basis will know the most about what is going on with the network. It may be difficult to relinquish that kind of control over your clients.

You also may end up spending time verifying the work the outsourced company has done. These are still your clients, and you want to make sure that the tasks assigned to someone else are done properly.

Employees may also have a hard time with an outsourced system, thinking that it could be a threat to their jobs. Whenever a piece of your daily work is handed off to someone else, or even worse, another company, it can feel like the warning signs of layoffs. It might prove difficult to obtain buy-in from current employees on outsourcing a part of their current work.

Highly regulated or sensitive market verticals can also become tricky with an outsourced solution. Banking, healthcare, legal, and any other vertical with government stipulations and regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley could get extremely complicated with the necessary security to ensure compliance. The more people that have access to a client's environment, the more documentation and systems you will have to have in place to protect that environment. Of course, it would not be impossible, it just might make things too complicated for it to be worth it for your company.

Outsourced NOC: Hire Like an Employee

If you do decide to use an outsourced NOC, definitely do your research to find the right company. You have systems and policies in place, and if you don't find a company that is in line with what you are already doing, there can be some serious conflicts. You should think of the company as an extension of your employees. Would you hire and employee that had the same philosophies, qualifications, work ethics and traits as the company you are considering? If the answer is no, then keep looking for the right fit.