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Issue of August 2002 
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Case Study: HCL Comnetís NOC
A case for NOC

Any company that has scaled up its presence to new locations, increased manpower, and introduced new enterprise applications, will very likely, see that its IT Head has developed a new set of worries. He has to design the extended network, decide on the hardware to buy, chose the appropriate connectivity options, deploy adequate backup and disaster recovery resources, and recruit qualified technical staff for the jobs. To make matters worse, all this has to be done within a limited budget.

Sometimes a company may want to implement a new feature in its network like robust security architecture, carry out network health and performance analysis, and set up a storage infrastructure. But, the amount of technical and financial resources required to carry out any of these functions may be a large inhibiting factor.

In such cases the company can turn to an external NOC (Network Operations Center) which has the necessary facilities, equipment, processes and procedures, applications, and qualified staff to relieve the company of any excess network-related and financial burdens. The company does not have to invest in a full-fledged NOC infrastructure of its own, and dedicate any extra technical and human resources.

HCL Comnet has built such a NOC in Noida which it calls an iNOC (Intelligent NOC). It went live in April 2002 and already manages infrastructure for 56-odd clients. The clients are present in 400-odd cities nationwide and there are a total 5,200 nodes to manage. Let's look at the features of the iNOC to get an idea of what an NOC is like from close and the ways in which it can help your enterprise's network.

Value propositions
Vineet Nayar, CEO, HCL Comnet said, "with the IT industry gaining maturity, availability and uptime are taken for granted. The current focus is on improved performance of applications over the network and most IT departments are not adequately equipped to handle this challenge. It becomes very difficult for enterprises to judge the amount of losses that accrue due to technology or human errors, outages, and downtime leading to high budget overruns."

"By using the services of a NOC, one of the most revealing value propositions, is the enterprise's ability to incorporate finitely predictable budgets. Our research shows that a typical company of about 5000 employees can get a cost benefit of US$ 9.7 Million to US$ 18.4 Million per annum by outsourcing their IT infrastructure management. The saving can vary from 35.8 percent to 50.7 percent of the total IT Infrastructure management cost of US$ 170 Million over a five year period. This saving is accrued due to two reasons. First, saving in cost due to reduced in-house IT infrastructure management staff, and second, better SLA (Service Level Agreement) deliverables due to the nature of the contract that can be made."

"The tendency among enterprises who suffer from network performance issues is to increase their current bandwidth requirements. But, network performance does not solely depend on bandwidth. A higher visibility into the infrastructure and the capability to optimize performance accordingly, is the only solution to ensure significant improvement in performance', claimed Vineet.

A good NOC can proactively prevent a network infrastructure fault and guarantee availability, high-uptime, and increased performance of its customer's IT infrastructure. The customer network is usually connected to the NOC through a dedicated link. Usually, a well-defined security practice ensures auditable safety of customer data. And the network is monitored on a 24x7 basis.

New services can be deployed on the network quickly. There is no need to invest upfront on tools and infrastructure, and an IT Head doesn't need to evaluate different applications. This reduces time overheads, operating cost, and gets a better ROI.

The company
HCL Comnet, a 100 percent subsidiary of HCL Technologies is one of the leading IT services management companies in India. It offers satellite communications and a number of network infrastructure solutions.

The need
The company felt that the current IT focus is on improved performance of applications over the network and most IT departments are not adequately equipped to handle the challenge.

The solution
Enterprises can use the services of an external NOC (Network operations Center) which will have the requisite hardware, software, connectivity, and manpower to remotely manage a client enterprise's network.

The benefits
Through 24x7 monitoring a NOC can prevent any network infrastructure faults and offer guaranteed availability, high-uptime and increased performance. The customer network is connected to the iNOC through a dedicated link. Well-defined security practices ensure auditable safety of customer data. And the customer does not have to invest in equipment and manpower upfront.


Architecture features
HCL Comnet's iNOC is 15,000 square feet large and includes a Core Complex which comprises a dedicated Racks area, an Operations area, customer cubicles, laboratory, and conference rooms. It claims to be earthquake-resistant, bulletproof, and resistant to explosions and vibrations. And its architecture does not allow EMI (Electro-Mechanical Interference) and RFI (Radio Frequency Interference).

The Core Complex is semi-circle in shape for operational and monitoring efficiency. It is divided into two parts-the Racks and the Operations area. The two areas are separated by a soundproof glass partition. The glass wall also allows visual monitoring of the equipment kept on the racks.

The Racks area encloses around 50 racks that keeps equipment related to various technologies. Each rack has a protected, independent power supply line.

Network security and physical security are absolutely compulsory. Firewalls, anti-virus solutions, Intrusion detection tools, and security monitors comprise the network security architecture at the iNOC.

Other than security personnel who man the center around the clock, iNOC has installed Proximity Access Control systems to control and restrict entry. These include items like proximity readers, electronic locks, electronic identity tags, and keypads.

Smoke detection systems monitor and report any drastic change in air temperature and there's a centralized fire security system, which is backed by sprinklers. Cross-zone, multi sensor detectors are also installed on the ceiling and below false floors.

Climate conditioning
Servers, routers, and other network devices tend to decrease in efficiency in very high temperatures. And the presence of dust and humidity are also detrimental to the performance of the devices.

The iNOC has installed precision air conditioning that comprises two chillers and four compressors. Different zones in the NOC have different temperature requirements. The Operations area needs to maintain 24 degrees Celsius and the Racks area requires between 21 and 22 degrees Celsius. Additional split air-conditioners are installed in the Racks area to provide any extra cooling, if necessary. Dust catchers are installed in the premises and personnel are only allowed to wear anti-dust, anti-static slippers.

The NOC houses a large number of equipment which includes servers, baseband equipment, routers, modems, and switches. Here are the details:

  • Baseband equipment from STM, Gilat, Viasat, and SA
  • Around 25 Servers for ISP and internal system-related purposes. IS severs run applications related to Unix, NT, database, and SQL. All of these are Raid 5 implementations and cater to disk functions.
  • Modems, Routers, Cisco high-end switches

There are two layers of power supply an UPSEB and a centralized stand-by 3-DG set. Three 60 KVA UPSs are installed to ensure uninterrupted power supply round the clock. The UPSs are also backed up for redundancy. The power panel for the iNOC is separate.

Network management
Managing and monitoring the health of the iNOC is an important task. HCL Comnet uses a number of network management and performance tools to try and ensure uninterrupted operation. Some of the tools are HP OpenView, HP OpenView Customer Views, CA's Paradigm, Cisco Works, VisualPulse, Nortel Network's Optivity, and IPCheck.

HP OpenView Customer Views allows to model network elements logically and graphically displays any changes in network device status. VisualPulse gathers and summarizes latency and availability data for data sources. Optivity is a suite of network management tools. And IPCheck is designed to continuously monitor one or more servers.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at

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