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NOC vs. data center: What's the difference?

Network operations centers and data centers are two facilities organizations use to store IT devices and manage operations. But they differ significantly in terms of purpose and operations.

Data centers and network operation centers, or NOCs, are technology facilities that contain large amounts of hardware, software and IT staff. But both centers serve different business objectives. Discover what happens in each center, as well as how they contrast in terms of purpose, roles, and commonly used equipment and tools.

What is a data center?

A data center is a building that hosts applications, data and other digital services for an organization. Network infrastructure and associated cables located in the data center connect servers to the LAN to access business applications and data.

Users connected to the corporate network by way of LAN, WAN or remote access can access applications housed in one or more data center facilities. Traditional enterprise data centers were primarily privately owned and operated, but many apps and services are now deployed in cloud computing data centers operated by third parties.

What is a network operations center?

A NOC is a centralized hub where network professionals monitor components, servers and endpoints from a network health and performance perspective. Every enterprise manages its NOC differently, and evolutions in modern networking have also changed NOC responsibilities. Generally, however, organizations typically use NOCs to monitor network health and performance.

Network operations staff implement and analyze various network monitoring tools that help identify network events, faults, flows and deviations from baseline behavior that could result in network slowdowns or outages.

Chart listing various NOC performance metrics and KPIs
NetOps teams monitor these NOC performance metrics to oversee network operations.

Examples of common NOC tools include Simple Network Management Protocol monitoring and alerting systems, syslog servers, NetFlow collectors and analyzers, and AI for IT operations systems. When a tool detects a network performance issue, the NOC team troubleshoots the problem, identifies a root cause and resolves the incident as quickly as possible to minimize business operation downtime.

Confusion between NOCs vs. data centers

The confusion between NOCs and data centers typically arises when businesses place their NOCs within their larger data center facilities. This multiuse setup often leads to situations where teams use the terms interchangeably in conversation.

NOC monitoring, troubleshooting and analysis tools are typically housed on servers within the data center itself, and network operations staff operate in a room adjacent to the data center. However, data centers and NOCs differ greatly when it comes to the goals, technologies and skills required to operate them.

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