Many alarm monitoring upgrades - even vital ones - never get off the ground because of lack of budget support from upper management. Norlight Telecommunications successfully upgraded its alarm monitoring by creating a Strategic Alarm Committee that got senior executives directly involved in planning the upgrade. The result has been a dramatic reduction in service restoration time that makes everyone in the company - and Norlight's customers - happy.
For Norlight, a full-service telecommunications provider of high-quality, integrated voice and data solutions, and wholesale transport solutions headquartered in Brookfield, Wisconsin, the need for improved alarm monitoring was an inevitable outgrowth of success. Norlight operates nearly 4,000 miles of fiber, connecting Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio.
Norlight's aggressive growth strategy expanded its network infrastructure, but the alarm monitoring that supports the network hadn't been upgraded in years. Alarm equipment that had been perfectly adequate in the 1990s was no longer up to the job of supporting an expanding 21st century network.
"Since I started at Norlight six years ago, the network has grown significantly," said Paul Mankins, a Norlight operations support engineer who spearheaded the effort to evaluate and upgrade its monitoring platform. "As your network grows, the importance of alarm monitoring takes on greater significance. It is extremely important to have tools that assist in accurately troubleshooting problems.
"Before we upgraded to T/Mon NOC, we were running T/MonXM on a late 90s vintage PC, as well as other element management systems. In addition, we were gathering similar alarm information on two different systems, which was cumbersome."
Norlight now has dual T/Mon NOCs running as dual redundant masters. The new alarm system supports all of Norlight's existing networking and remote telemetry equipment, plus new capabilities like SNMP trap processing.
Mankins said that the new redundant T/Mon NOC system processes alarms faster, allows database upgrades without disruption, and has improved Norlight's overall response to problems.
"The upgrade went extremely well, and we noticed improvements right away. The faster processing speed was immediately apparent. Everyone is pleased that we are now able to update the database on the secondary T/Mon and transfer it to the primary T/Mon without impacting the operations in our Network Management Center," Mankins said.
"The T/Mon NOC supports our KDAs, NetGuardians, Dantel serial shelves, our older Datalok shelves, and Nortel and SONET equipment. We're using T/Mon NOC's SNMP trap processing. Before, we received generic critical-major-minor alarms from SNMP enabled equipment. With SNMP we now have very specific information that has reduced our time to resolve equipment-based events.
"In operational terms, the T/Mon NOC upgrade enables us to respond to alarms faster, and also enables us to resolve customer problems faster. The T/Mon NOC assists in troubleshooting problems to a level that we can isolate the problem with a high degree of confidence," said Mankins.
Norlight had a key advantage in making its alarm upgrade a success - company executives clearly understood that network alarm monitoring is fundamentally a customer service issue.
Norlight measured the effectiveness of its alarming with the same metrics it used to track customer satisfaction, which made it plain to everyone in the company how improving monitoring was going to improve the bottom line.
"We have two measurements that we use in our company: Mean Time to Respond and Mean Time to Repair. We use these two basic metrics to satisfy our existing customers, as well as attract new customers," said Mankins.
"For our alarming, we were looking at how we could move those numbers in the right direction. We had to ask ourselves if we were providing our Network Management Center with the tools needed to effectively recognize an alarm, evaluate the alarm, and make an expedient decision on the proper course of action.
It was Norlight's high-level understanding of the close connection between alarm monitoring and customer satisfaction that led to the creation of a team that focused on monitoring tools. The team brought together technical staff from multiple departments. Key to this group was participation and input from the Network Management staff that uses these tools on a daily basis and has direct contact with the customer.
The committee's task was to evaluate both Norlight's current monitoring platform and alternative solutions. Because all the stakeholders were at the same table, the team was able to develop the necessary criteria the company would use for evaluating the systems. "The number-one thing we were looking for from an alarm vendor was service. The level of technical support they were willing to provide to meet our needs," said Mankins.
"It was very important for us to find a vendor who was willing to customize the alarm system to meet our needs. Like many carriers, we have a mix of equipment - everything from microwave radio systems to high capacity dense wave division multiplexing systems. We needed an alarm system that could pull in TBOS alarms, discrete alarms, SNMP ... DPS has products that meet our needs," Mankins said.
As part of the evaluation process, Mankins visited DPS Telecom headquarters in Fresno to attend a Factory Training Event and work hands-on with DPS alarm equipment. The visit helped solidify the committee's decision to upgrade to dual redundant T/Mon NOCs.
"After coming out to the DPS training class, seeing the facility, all the manufacturing that's done on site, we saw that DPS is extremely focused on customer service. Everybody in our group really liked that aspect of DPS," Mankins said.
Mankins said that the decision to upgrade with a new DPS Telecom system was based on two factors, DPS's technical capacities and attention to customer service.
"And hands down, DPS had better technical service. DPS developed solutions for our network and worked with us to get things out to us when we needed them. One of the things that we enjoy about DPS is the comfort level associated with calling them. When I call DPS, I'm usually dealing with >Eric [Storm, President of DPS Telecom].
"Looking at DPS's customer service, and the stability and functionality of the equipment DPS manufactures, DPS exceeds our needs. So we enjoy working with them," said Mankins.
T/Mon NOC will give you better visibility and control over your entire network. T/Mon's standard pager and email alerts, easy-to-use Web interface, nuisance alarm filtering and multiple remote access options will make your alarm data more useful - reducing both windshield time and the threat of service outages.
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