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Merit Moves and Revitalizes its Network Operations Center

Merit has run a Network Operations Center since 1987, including through the very active years of the NSFNet project. But as startup funding for the Internet ended in the mid-1990s, most of Merit’s NSFNet staff were spun off to continue building the Internet through a series of private companies. In 1994, Merit contracted with the University of Michigan to build a replacement NOC to handle Merit’s reduced needs. Now, in 2008, Merit has brought that NOC back in-house to support Merit’s growing Unified Communications set of products.

“Merit is now delivering many services on top of the Network” said Dale Johnson, who managed the startup NSFNet NOC in the early 1990s and has returned to the Network Operations Center business. “We are providing high-speed dedicated connections, Voice-over-IP, Email services, Disaster Recovery facilities, NOC services for other organizations, managed VideoConferencing services and will be providing IPTV in the future. We must be proactive in our support of the network and these services regardless of the day of the week or the hour of the day; our Members need all of these services to always be up and available, just as they expect that of our Network.”

In the first months of this year, Merit moved the NOC into a recently renovated space on the second floor of the MITC. The new location has helped build a team atmosphere, where Merit staff and NOC staff can interact and benefit from each other’s expertise. “By locating the NOC in the same office as the [Merit] Operations and Engineering teams,” said Don Welch, president and CEO of Merit, “all three interact, learn from each other, and better support each other.” “Problems get solved a lot quicker than if we were emailing from another building,” says Deb Boyer, who has returned to the Merit NOC from the NSFNet days. “If something isn’t getting done, you just get up and walk a few cubes away and resolve it.”

The Network Operations Center features 10 NOC Analysts, many of whom bring years or even decades of networking and NOC experience with them:

  • Tim Howell, Dave Dix, Paul Cirenza, and Shane Burgess have followed the NOC from its UM/Arbor Lakes location to its new place within Merit.
  • John Labbe and Deb Boyer, who both worked with Dale in the NSFNET Network Operations Center between 1987 and 1995, have rejoined Merit and its renewed Network Operations Center. John and Deb have also worked for Advanced Network Services, AOL, UUNet, WCOM, MCI and Verizon through the series of companies that bought out and benefited from the skills of the original Merit NOC.
  • Rob Levitt came to the Merit NOC from Internet 2, bringing his years of IP Videoconferencing and IT management experience.
  • Nicki Trinka, Mike Zawacki, and Riva Milliken have come to Merit from careers with Network Operations Centers at UUNet, Worldcom, MCI, and Verizon.

World-class 24×7 centers are challenging to operate, and the change in NOC Administration is seen as a win-win situation by both Merit and the University of Michigan. “Scaling the Merit NOC service to include additional networks and services will decrease the U-M share of expenses,” according to Andy Palms, ITCS interim co-executive director and director of ITCom. Dick Boyd, director of ITCom Operations, estimated that the University is likely to save more than $100,000 per year by outsourcing the UM’s non-business-hour NOC services to Merit. This arrangement also allows Merit to refine its general offering of NOC services, using UM as a complex customer with high expectations.

The new Merit NOC will continue to be responsive to network problems when they arise. The NOC also provides round-the-clock support for Merit’s services, including new offerings such as MeritVoice, Merit Mail, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services, Merit’s Managed Video Collaboration Service. The Merit NOC can also be the NOC for your network, 24×7, or as off-hours support.

About Merit Network

Merit Network Inc., is a nonprofit corporation owned and governed by Michigan’s public universities. Merit owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit Network has remained at the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking and IT solutions to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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