NOCs are important parts of a mission critical operation
Selection of command-and-control consoles for network operation centers (NOCs) traditionally occurs late in the planning and construction phases of a new facility or the expansion/renovation of an existing one. Until recently, off-the-shelf console designs have been employed and have met the needs of most applications.
Technology is driving the need for a new approach to console design. Generic, off-the-shelf templates are no longer viable solutions to meet the demands of today’s secure NOC environments. Because NOCs are 24/7 workplaces, they now require higher performance levels from their consoles.
High-performance console design is an integral element of the overall NOC facility design and will reap productivity benefits when centers are brought on line. The console must be viewed as an integral part of the technology solution, similar to the hardware and software solutions being deployed. When executed correctly, this console perspective positively impacts how each employee interacts with the technology, the enterprise infrastructure, and the rest of the working team.
New Dimensions in Design Methodology
As technology transition expands its reach within NOCs, the challenge of integrating people, technology, workspace, and workflow becomes increasingly difficult. Architects, designers, engineers, and facility planners need to consider each of these four dimensions as an integral part of the overall operational system and peel back predetermined concepts of traditional console design methodology.
In the NOC, understanding how people interact with other elements of the environment is the basis of high-performance console design.
It’s very important to understand who will be interfacing with the console. This information is integral to the design process as business productivity is directly correlated to individual productivity. One must consider the operator level-the individuals in the seat-as well as secondary levels of the operation, including supervisors, facilities engineers, technicians, and even systems integrators who come into contact with the console on a regular basis. The console design and configuration directly impact the ability to service the technology and infrastructure, while maintaining operational uptime.
Technology and its supporting infrastructure are the backbone of NOCs. High-performance console designs efficiently and effectively store, cool, power, manage, and secure the technology housed on or within the console.
As the primary human-machine interface, the console can essentially be described as the point at which the data center and network administrators and technicians meet. Consoles tend to house technology locally. Because of this, safeguards must be designed into the console to avoid accidental power or data loss, equipment overheating, or other unintentional consequences resulting from human error.
Power and data cables must be neatly managed and provide easy access for IT and facilities personnel. Yet, they must also be out of reach to avoid accidental disconnection. Airflow management solutions that include material selection must also be in place to ensure that higher-density computer and network gear is adequately ventilated. In NOC applications, these measures should not be afterthoughts because data and power downtime can result in serious network downtime.
Physical space is, by far, the most constraining and least forgiving of the four dimensions. The space must be examined independently from the operation and from the console itself. Space planning identifies the space available for console design.
Additionally, physical and conditional attributes of the space, such as cable cut-outs in raised floors, power drops from ceilings, ADA requirements, and other local building codes, also play an important role in the design of a high-performance console for any NOC environment.
The main objectives in space planning are to ensure that the space can support the appropriate number and types of consoles and that the consoles can be adequately located to meet the workflow demand of the overall operation. Cabling, data, and power distribution requirements of the operation must also be accommodated appropriately. In addition, it’s important to build in as much modularity or scalability to allow for future system upgrades and equipment transitions as operational needs change and technologies evolve.
Workflow is the integration of people and technology working collaboratively in the physical workspace, as well as individuals in various operations center job functions interacting seamlessly while functioning at peak performance.
It’s important to understand the relationship between the work types within the center. This includes managers, supervisors, operators, engineers, risk managers, and each employee seated at the consoles.
Additionally, the interaction of all people who may not be seated at a console must be clearly understood. These can be technical or administrative staff, facilities, or support personnel.
Will a supervisor or manager require an uninterrupted sight line to the entire facility? During critical events, such as power failures, will supervisors or managers need to have remote access or need to monitor an operator station? Are there specific times or physical points at which there is interaction among supervisors, office administrators, or other center personnel?
In the NOC environment there are two distinct workflow modes: normal day-to-day operations and critical event or crisis mode. The interdependencies of all the personnel working within any mission-critical NOC environment need to be considered and evaluated to ensure that operator consoles are designed to meet these requirements and optimize operations.
Transitioning to High Performance
As the primary human-machine interface, today’s sophisticated consoles play a central, critical role in mission-critical NOCs. Console design has evolved to the point at which it is as effective a contributor to operational performance as are the people and technology that work at them.
Higher levels of ownership and buy-in are achieved when the mission-critical team has greater input into the four dimensions of the discovery process. This detailed input ultimately enables higher performing people and more efficient operations during normal operational periods, and especially, during periods of crisis management.
The era of off-the-shelf console design has come to an end. Understanding the four dimensions of high performance console design provides the necessary freedom to deliver a high return on investment and a lower total cost of ownership in NOC environments.
Sidebar: Questions for High-Performance Console Design in
In mission-critical environments each facility and its requirements are different. Here is a set of questions encompassing each of the four dimensions that will need to be answered.
Each of the following factors needs to be considered to determine size, shape, ergonomics, aesthetic form, fit, function, durability, and overall design/configuration.
• User demographics
• Who will be coming into contact with the console during the course of operations (operators, managers, supervisors, facilities personnel, IT, and other technical support staff)?
• What are relevant anthropometric characteristics (height, weight, etc.) of the user groups? (These are necessary when designing an ergonomically correct console specific to the operation.)
• Work shifts
• What is the length and frequency of each person’s workday?
• How are holidays and weekends staffed? Is this different than weekdays?
• Do shifts overlap?
• How do critical events impact a work shift?
• Facility conditions
• How do people access the facility?
• Are ADA requirements met?
• Access to technology
• Who has access/authorization, and to what equipment and technology do they have access/authorization?
• Are there any authorization variables or restrictions to hardware versus cabling? What are they?
• Organizational culture/structure/hierarchy
• What is the hierarchal structure of the organization?
• What are the co-dependencies and interactions with other people, workgroups, departments, or agencies within the organization?
• How have people adapted to the reality of a typical day? What is the organizational process versus workarounds?
The following information on the technology being used in the environment must be understood in order to design to high-performance standards.
• Describe the technology portfolio-purpose, quantity, type/style, size, electrical, and technical specification specification-in relation to:
• Keyboards and mice
• Electronic equipment (radios, controllers, and any electronic gear which may be located or connected to the console)
• Voice/audio/digital devices (phones, headsets, and microphones, etc.)
• Power equipment, UPS, power transfer switches, surge protection
• Describe the operation of the technology
• How and in what combination(s) is it used?
• Is it all used at the same time, normal versus critical events?
• Describe other “soft” objects, such as reference materials, binders, etc., that are present and used in the operations
• For each soft reference, describe the location and mounting requirements
• Are they local, within the console footprint?
• Are they remote, outside of the console footprint, which includes another room, or a centralized data center?
• How is the technology used and accessed by all parties: operators, IT staff, system integrators, etc. Describe in these terms:
• Active. If it is used regularly during a shift
• Randomly. If it is used occasionally, but at least once, during any shift
• Infrequently. If it is seldom used, but necessary to the overall operation
• Event Critical. This refers to technology that will transition from infrequent to active when mission-critical events occur.
• Describe utility accessibility
• Where are building connections for power, data, and voice?
• Where are individual room connections?
• Are there separate house and UPS circuits?
In order for the physical attributes of the empty space and its access points to be understood in proper context, the following questions need to be answered:
• What is the construction state?
• Is it new construction?
• Is it an interior redesign and/or build-out?
• Is it an existing interior?
• What are the local codes and standards?
• What certifications are being sought or required?
• Is the building occupant/owner seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)?
• What are the primary physical boundaries of the space?
• What is the square foot dimension of the space that will house the command and control center?
• What are the primary and secondary access points?
• Describe doors or windows in the space
• What are the support structures?
• What physical barriers are present
• Describe columns or other structural objects?
• What kinds of facility management objects are present?
• Where are light switches, electrical outlets, and thermostats located?
• Note fire extinguishers, exit signs, and building map (“you are here”) locations?
• What other physical objects occupy wall space?
• Where are utility rooms, access points, network/wiring closets, and other building infrastructure systems located?
• What is the “Construction of Planning” process?
• What stage is it in?
• Based on the project time line, can plans be altered?
Work flow can be examined in the context of input-process-output. It is necessary to understand-in relation to people and infrastructure-how the work flows during times of normal operations and crisis management operations.
• What forms do the various tools used in the workflow take (physical paper, electronic data, etc)?
• How is it delivered/accessed (mail, email, phone call, or hand delivered, etc.)?
• How often is it delivered?
• Is timing critical?
• How is it processed?
• What tools or reference materials are required and are they within reach?
• Does one need all the tools, all the time?
• Can the tools be stored and easily accessed?
• Is someone or some other thing needed to process it?
• What are timing expectations or service levels associated with processing the inputs?
• What form is the output?
• To whom or what is the output sent?
• How often is the output sent?
• Is it sent in all instances?
• Is an archive/back-up required?