|Title||NOC Internal Integrated Trouble Ticket System Functional
Specification Wishlist ("NOC TT REQUIREMENTS")
Network Working Group D. Johnson
Request for Comments: 1297 Merit Network, Inc.
NOC Internal Integrated Trouble Ticket System
Functional Specification Wishlist
("NOC TT REQUIREMENTS")
Status of the Memo
This memo provides information for the Internet community. It does
not specify an Internet standard. Distribution of this memo is
Professional quality handling of network problems requires some kind
of problem tracking system, herein referred to as a "trouble ticket"
system. A basic trouble ticket system acts like a hospital chart,
coordinating the work of multiple people who may need to work on the
Once the basic trouble ticket system is in place, however, there are
many extensions that can aid Network Operations efficiency.
Information in the tickets can be used to produce statistical
reports. Operator efficiency and accuracy may be increased by
automating trouble ticket entry with information from the network
Alert system. The Alert system may be used to monitor trouble ticket
progress. Trouble tickets may be also used to communicate network
health information between NOCs, to telcom vendors, and to other
internal sales and engineering audiences.
This document explores competing uses, architectures, and desirable
features of integrated internal trouble ticket systems for Network
and other Operations Centers.
This RFC describes general functions of a Trouble Ticket system that
could be designed for Network Operations Centers. The document is
being distributed to members of the Internet community in order to
stimulate discussions of new production-oriented operator-level
application tools for network operations. Hopefully, this will
result both in more ideas for improving NOC performance, and in more
available tools that incorporate those ideas.
PURPOSES OF A NOC TROUBLE TICKET SYSTEM
A good Network Operations Trouble Ticket System should serve many
1) SHORT-TERM MEMORY AND COMMUNICATION ("Hospital Chart"). The
primary purpose of the trouble ticket system is to act as short-
term memory about specific problems for the NOC as a whole. In a
multi-operator or multi-shift NOC, calls and problem updates come
in without regard to who worked last on a particular problem.
Problems extend over shifts, and problems may be addressed by
several different operators on the same shift. The trouble ticket
(like a hospital chart) provides a complete history of the
problem, so that any operator can come up to speed on a problem
and take the next appropriate step without having to consult with
other operators who are working on something else, or have gone
home, or are on vacation. In single-room NOCs, an operator may
ask out loud if someone else knows about or is working on a
problem, but the system should allow for more formal communication
2) SCHEDULING and WORK ASSIGNMENT. NOCs typically work with many
simultaneous problems with different priorities. An on-line
trouble ticket system can provide real time (or even constantly
displayed and updated) lists of open problems, sorted by priority.
This would allow operators to sort their work at the beginning of
a shift, and to pick their next task during the shift. It also
would allow supervisors and operators to keep track of the current
NOC workload, and to call in and assign additional staff as
It may be useful to allow current priorities of tickets change
according to time of day, or in response to timer alerts.
3) REFERRALS AND DISPATCHING. If the trouble ticket system is
thoroughly enough integrated with a mail system, or if the system
is used by Network Engineers as well as Network Operators, then
some problems can be dispatched simply by placing the appropriate
Engineer or Operator name in an "assigned to" field of the trouble
4) ALARM CLOCK. Typically, most of the time a trouble ticket is
open, it is waiting for something to happen. There should almost
always be a timer associated with every wait. If a ticket is
referred to a phone company, there will be an escalation time
before which the phone company is supposed to call back with an
update on the problem. For tickets referred to remote site
personnel, there may be other more arbitrary timeouts such as
"Monday morning". Tickets referred to local engineers or
programmers should also have timeouts ("Check in a couple of days
if you don't hear back from me"). A good trouble ticket system
will allow a timeout to be set for each ticket. This alarm will
generate an alert for that ticket at the appropriate time.
Preferably, the system should allow text to be attached to that
timer with a shorthand message about what the alert involves
("Remind Site: TT xxx") (The full story can always be found by
checking the trouble ticket). These alerts should feed into the
NOC's standard alert system.
The Alarm Clock can also assist (or enforce!) administrative
escalation. An escalation timer could automatically be set based
on the type of network, severity of the problem, and the time the
5) OVERSIGHT BY ENGINEERS AND CUSTOMER/SITE REPRESENTATIVES. NOCs
frequently operate more than one network, or at least have people
(engineers, customer representatives, etc) who are responsible for
subsets of the total network. For these individual
representatives, summaries of trouble tickets can be filtered by
network or by node, and delivered electronically to the various
engineers or site representatives. Each of these reports includes
a summary of the previous day's trouble tickets for those sites, a
listing of older trouble tickets still open, and a section listing
recurrent problems. These reports allow the site reps to keep
aware the current outages and trends for their particular sites.
The trouble ticket system also allows network access to the the
details of individual trouble tickets, so those receiving the
general reports can get more detail on any of their problems by
referencing the trouble ticket number.
6) STATISTICAL ANALYSIS. The fixed-form fields of trouble tickets
allow categorizations of tickets, which are useful for analyzing
equipment and NOC performance. These include, Mean Time Between
Failure and Mean Time to Repair reports for specific equipment.
The fields may also be of use for generating statistical quality
control reports, which allow deteriorating equipment to be
detected and serviced before it fails completely. Ticket
breakdowns by network a NOC costs to be apportioned appropriately,
and help in developing staffing and funding models. A good
trouble ticket system should make this statistical information in
a format suitable for spreadsheets and graphics programs.
7) FILTERING CURRENT ALERTS. It would be possible to use network
status information from the trouble ticket system to filter the
alerts that are displayed on the alert system. For instance, if
node XXX is known to be down because the trouble ticket is
currently open on it, the alert display for that node could
automatically be acknowledged. Trouble tickets could potentially
contain much further information useful for expert system analysis
of current network alert information.
8) ACCOUNTABILITY ("CYA"), FACILITATING CUSTOMER FOLLOW-THROUGH,
AND NOC IMAGE). Keeping user-complaint tickets facilities the
kind of follow through with end-users that generates happy clients
(and good NOC image) for normal trouble-fixing situations. But
also, by their nature, NOCs deal with crises; they occasionally
find themselves with major outages, and angry users or
administrators. The trouble ticket system documents the NOC's
(and the rest of the organization's) efforts to solve problems in
case of complaints.
FIXED FIELDS, FREE-FORM FIELDS, and TT CONFIGURATION
Information in trouble tickets can be placed in either fixed or
freeform fields. Fixed fields have the advantage that they can be
used more easily for searches. A series of fixed fields also acts as
a template, either encouraging or requiring the operators to fill in
certain standard data. Fixed fields can facilitate data verification
(e.g., making sure an entered name is in an attached contacts
database, or verifying that a phone number consists of ten numeric
characters). Fixed fields are also appropriate for data that is
automatically entered by the system, such as the operator's login id,
the name of the node that was clicked on if the trouble ticket is
opened via an alert tool, or names and phone numbers that are
automatically entered into the ticket based on other entries (e.g.,
filling in a contact name and phone based on a machine name).
Unfortunately, fixed fields work best where the problem-debugging
environment is uniform, well-understood, and stable; that is, trouble
tickets work best when their fields are well tailored to the specific
problem at hand. It is easy to set up a large number of fields (or
even required fields) that are irrelevant to a given problem; this
slows down and confuses the operators. Adding structure and validity
checking to a field tends to make the data more consistent and
reliable, but it also tends to force the operators into longer
procedures like menus to get the get the data accepted by the system.
It also forces there to be more maintenance on those verification
systems (adding new entries as they become new legal options), and in
some ways it reduces the accuracy of the system by forcing operators
to choose "canned" or authorized responses that may not always
represent the situation accurately. Where statistical operational
reports are a primary purpose of the trouble ticket system, several
fixed fields may be appropriate. If the primary intent of the system
is to keep notes for individual problems and to facilitate
communication between operators, then fixed fields may tend to be a
hindrance. One reasonable guideline would be that fixed fields are
used ONLY where they are automatically filled in by the larger
system, or where the information in that field is explicitly used in
a report or standard search procedure.
Because of this close relationship between the structure of the
ticket and the problem to be solved, it is very very useful to be
able to define different ticket types for different classes of
problems. This becomes even more true for those many NOCs whose
staff are responsible for other types of operations: mainframe
operations, workstation administration, help desk functions, or any
of the other real-time response functions. Network operations to
justify the expense of an operations center. This kind of operation
makes economic sense, and is becoming more prevalent. In these kinds
of situations it is vital that the same tools that are used for
network operations also be available for the other operations. This
means that the trouble ticket configurations need to be modifiable by
local staff. Commercial RDBMS forms builder and report generator
packages and "fourth-generation languages" offer a good start at
this, although it is sometimes difficult to integrate full trouble
ticket functionality through these systems.
TROUBLE TICKET STRUCTURE
1) HEADERS. Inevitably, a trouble ticket begins with a number of
fixed fields. These generally include:
Time and Date of problem start.
Initials or signon of the operator opening the ticket.
Severity of the problem (possibly separating the "customer
severity" and the "NOC priority", since these could be different).
A one-line description of the problem for use in reports.
There can be many other fixed fields for specific purposes. There
may also be different kinds of tickets for different problems, where
the ticket format differs mainly in fixed fields. These include:
Who reported the problem? (Name, organization, phone,
Network involved (for multi-network NOCs).
User's machine address.
Destination machine address.
Time and date for alarm on this ticket.
Who should the ticket be dispatched to?
Ticket "owner" (one person designated to be responsible overall).
2) INCIDENT UPDATES. The main body of trouble tickets is usually a
series of freeform text fields. Optimally, each of these fields is
automatically marked with the time and date of the update, and with
the signon of the operator making the update. Since updates are
frequently recorded sometime after the problem is fixed, however, it
is useful to allow the operators to override the current time stamp
with the time the update was actually made. (In some
implementations, both times will be kept internally).
The first incident update usually is a description of the problem.
Since the exact nature of the problem is usually not known when the
ticket is first opened, this description may be complex and
imprecise. For problems that are reported by electronic mail, it is
useful to be able to paste the original message in the ticket,
particularly if it contains cryptic or extensive information (such as
a user's traceroute output). At least one such arbitrarily-long
freeform field seems necessary to contain this kind of output,
although it is better to allow arbitrarily long messages at any stage
(e.g., so future complex messages can also be archived in the
Subsequent update fields may be as simple as "Called site; no
answer". Some systems allow these kinds of updates to be coded in
fixed fields; most use freeform text.
There should always be an indication of what the next action for this
ticket ought to be. Again, this may be implemented as a special
fixed field, or by convention of using the last line of text.
Advanced systems may also need a facility to allocate the amount of
time a ticket is open between multiple sources. A serious NOC will
want to use its trouble ticket system to statistically track its
performance on responding to problems. (e.g., Mean Time Between
Failure and Mean Time To Repair reports). Frequently, though,
repairs are stopped at the customer's request. ("It's not that
important a machine and I don't feel like coming in--can you defer it
until Monday Morning?"). In these cases the ticket needs to remain
open, but there needs to be a notation that the ticket is now in
"customer time" rather than "NOC time". The durations of "customer
time" need to be excluded from MTBF and MTTR reports. Complicated
repairs could move back and forth between "NOC time" "customer time"
repeatedly. This probably implies that each Incident Update may have
a time and date of status change, and that these status changes can
be read and aggregated by by reporting programs.
3) RESOLUTION DATA. Once a problem is resolved, it is useful to
summarize the problem for future statistical analysis. The following
fields have been found to be useful:
- Time and Date of resulation (for outage duration).
- Durations (can be calculated from time of resolution and
incident report "customer/NOC time" stamps).
- Resolution (one line of description of what happened, for
- Key component affected (for MTBF and similar reports).
- Checked By -- a field for supervisors to sign off on ticket
- Escalated to -- for reports on how many problems require
- Temp - a database field that can be used to store temporary
"check marks" while making statistical investigations.
USER, TROUBLE, and ENGINEERING Ticket System(s)
The primary level of an Network Operations trouble ticket is the
"problem" or "trouble": a single malfunctioning piece of hardware or
software that breaks at some time, has various efforts to fix it, and
eventually is fixed at some given time.
The primary level of an Network Information Center ticket, however,
might well be the "user complaint". A single network failure might
well produce a large number of individual user phone calls and hence
"user complaint" tickets. A NIC may want to use tickets to track
each one of these calls, e.g., to make sure each user is informed and
satisfied about the eventual resolution of the single hardware
In addition, NOCs (or Engineering Staffs) may want to track
systematic problems. The staff may know, for instance, that a
particular router is old and fragile, or that a particular section of
their network doesn't have enough redundancy. It may be useful to
open an "Engineering Ticket" on these known problems, providing a
place to record history and notes about the problem, for use in
further engineering or funding discussions.
Even further "Meta" tickets could be described, having to do with
such issues as whether the current trouble ticket fields, reports,
and operation procedures were sufficient to handle current problems.
It would be very convenient to be able to build all of these systems
on the same platform, and to allow each type of ticket to easily
reference other types. Multiple "user complaint" tickets, then,
might might explicitly point to a single "trouble" ticket. Multiple
trouble tickets representing independent failures would then point to
a single "engineering" ticket, which described the systematic
problem. Multiple engineering tickets could point to a single "meta"
ticket, if appropriate.
ASSISTED ENTRY AND DATA VERIFICATION
Data (particularly in fixed fields) is only useful for searching if
it is entered in consistent formats. A trouble ticket system needs
to help operators fill these fields with the correct format of
information. This can be done using assisted entry (menus of
acceptable choices), verification routines which check against
internal lists or external databases (see next section), or other
Some database systems allow a customized "help" screen to be
associated with each field, helping new (and experienced) operators
by making context-sensitive trouble ticket system documentation
available at every field.
Very complicated help or operator-guidance systems can be built out
of Expert System technology. This could be as simple as help
screens, or help screens with database information inserted (e.g.,
site contact names and phone numbers). Or it could involve hints to
the operator, based on current network conditions. Or it might even
ask the operator to run tests and to type in the results. (See
EXPERT SYSTEMS, below).
To be maximally efficient and useful, a Trouble Ticket system needs
to integrate well with most of the rest of the NOC tools. These
1) OPERATOR WINDOW ENVIRONMENT. A NOC Operator needs access to
many pieces of information simultaneously, and therefore is well
served by a good windowing environment. The Trouble Ticket system
needs to run within this larger windowing system, so that the
operator can debug, consult databases, use Email, field alerts,
and keep an eye out for other emergencies while working on a
trouble ticket. It is also useful to be able to run two trouble
ticket sessions simultaneously, for example, to allow an operator
to search for related tickets while he is in the middle of
updating another ticket. Cut and Paste between these various
screens is mandatory, to allow easy recording of technical details
in the trouble tickets.
2) ALERT MONITORING SYSTEM. Trouble tickets are often opened in
response to machine alerts; it ought to be easy to open a trouble
ticket directly from the alert tool. When a ticket is opened this
way, information about the alert and the machine involved ought to
be automatically filled into the ticket. (There are various
opinions about whether trouble tickets ought to be opened
automatically without operator intervention. This operator's
opinion is that an operator acknowledgement should be required,
but this point is debated enough that designers of a new system
probably should support either option).
The Alarm Clock feature of the trouble ticket system also
generates alerts. These alerts ought to feed gracefully into the
Alert Monitor system, so that the operators will get all of their
alerts from one place.
3) DATABASE CONNECTIONS. A good trouble ticketing system will
query NOC databases to automatically fill out trouble ticket
fields where possible. This can be used for:
- Filling out Network Operator information (e.g., phone number)
based on the NetOp's signon id.
- Filling in contact information based on machine name.
- Filling in circuit numbers based on link description.
- Filling in alarm clock or escalation time fields based on the
machine or link name and on time of day.
- Filling in machine serial numbers based on configuration database.
4) MACHINE QUERYABLE INFORMATION. It could also be possible for a
trouble ticket system to make standard queries of the network
itself when a trouble ticket is opened: e.g., the system could
request and store current machine configurations whenever a ticket
was opened for that machine. On some systems, hardware serial
numbers are obtainable by software query directly to the machine.
5) ELECTRONIC MAIL. Problem notification often comes via
electronic mail; it must be possible to easily open a ticket and
include the original mail message within the ticket as part of the
initial problem description. When extremely technical messages
come in from network engineers, it is useful to allow those
messages to be included verbatim, rather than forcing less
technical network operators to rephrase the messages or to force
them into predefined formats. Later update messages should also
be easily includable. Possibly: tickets could be opened
automatically for mail messages to certain mailboxes. A response
system saying "Your request has been received and assigned ticket
number ####" might be desirable.
Information within trouble tickets must also be easily available
(possibly just via the windowing system) for inclusion in Email
messages to engineers and others.
Scheduled (e.g., daily) reports must also be easily generated into
the Email system.
6) DISPATCHING AND NOTIFICATION SYSTEMS. An important real-time
aspect of Network Operations is notifying users, technical
contacts, and administrators of various classes of problems. The
rules for who gets notified of what can be very arbitrary and
complex, and can involve electronic mail, notices in computer
conferences, automatic beeper pages, and synthesized voice
announcements. It would be good for a trouble ticket system to
provide for automatic (or operator initiated) notification of the
appropriate channels for the current ticket (based on network,
machine, severity of problem, duration of the problem, escalation
Databases associated with the trouble ticket system may also have
lists of specific people to contact about outages for particular
machines. These "who to inform" lists can facilitate customized
notification messages directly from the trouble ticket system.
It may also be possible to dispatch experts directly from the
trouble tickets system. IBM's ECCO system allows allows customers
to directly dispatch Service Engineers from machine interactions.
Many NOCs also use computer hooked to modems to automatically page
engineers. This kind of dispatching should be available from
within the trouble ticket system (along with an automatic note
into the trouble ticket that the engineer has been dispatched).
7) OTHER TROUBLE TICKET SYSTEMS. When the NOC generates a trouble
ticket, it often immediately calls up a telco or another Internet
NOC, who proceed to open their own ticket. The Internet
Engineering Task Force User Connectivity Working Group is also
proposing a national trouble ticket tracking system, which would
need updating from individual NOC trouble ticket systems. A
state-of-the-art trouble ticket system could have provisions for
transferring tickets and ticket information in and out of other
8) NETWORK ACCESS. Some older trouble ticket systems assumed that
anyone with a need to access the information would obtain a signon
and learn to use that system. The range of people with a need for
trouble ticket information is now too great to allow this
assumption. A good system now needs to be able to support network
query for tickets and summary reports, as well as Email delivery
of scheduled reports.
9) SUBROUTINE INTERFACE. To allow for ad-hoc and currently
unanticipated needs, the trouble ticket system needs to support a
full-function set of subroutine calls. These subroutines will
allow construction of further trouble ticket functionality not yet
10) EXPERT SYSTEMS. Network debugging is a very promising area
for expert system and artificial intelligence applications. But
such an algorithm should require access to the alert monitoring
system, configuration and change control systems, to the network
itself, and also to the information in the trouble ticket system.
A good future system then needs to make this information available
(probably via the subroutine interface mentioned above), and to
also allow the Network Operators to invoke the artificially
intelligent debugging from within a trouble ticket (including its
output as part of the ticket dialogue).
11) GRAPHICS/REPORT Capability. Statistical and graphical
displays about trouble ticket data need to be compatible with
tools used to generate reports, news letters, etc.
1) INTERACTIVE SPEED. The system must be fast enough to be used
interactively. NetOps need to answer questions over the phone in
real time; good answers cannot be given if every query takes a
couple of minutes. More importantly, the NetOps need the trouble
ticket system in order to get information necessary to fix the
network. If looking for old or currently-open tickets takes more
than a few seconds, it won't be done. If updates take very long
to make, then updates won't be recorded, or they will be recorded
long after the event (with corresponding loss of accuracy). (Our
Operators have asked for a single-line "update this ticket with
this message" utility that would let them avoid even retrieving
the ticket for simple updates!) Any time spent waiting reduces
NetOp productivity and Network reliability.
2) BACKUPS AND RELIABILITY. The trouble ticket system is
absolutely crucial to both immediate and long-term operation of
the NOC. Good systems could back up all data several times an
hour to an auxiliary processor. That processor should be
accessible for immediate use in case of failure of the primary
3) HISTORY AND ARCHIVING. A trouble ticket system is a
constantly-growing database system. Old tickets need to be
removed from the system at some interval (a year? several years?)
and archived. These archives should also be restorable for long-
term history processing.
4) PRIVACY AND SECURITY. The ability to enter, append, and modify
tickets should be controlled by id and password. Permissions
should be specifiable on a per-field basis. General read access
to tickets (or portions of tickets) also needs to be restricted,
or else NetOps will be reluctant to be full and candid in their
There are quite a few ideas in this "Wishlist". Ultimately, what an
Operations Center needs is a totally integrated set of tools which
completely model all of its activities, and which integrates cleanly
with all backup, peer, and vendor NOCs. It is hard to imagine that
this whole system could come out of a shrinkwrapped box, even without
the local configuration. But most of these facilities do exist, now,
in some system. Hopefully, this document will foster an ongoing
discussion of ways in which NOC operator-level tools are used in real
operations, and will encourage systems implementors and vendors to
bring some of this functionality to the aid of real operations. It
might even inspire current Operations Centers to add useful features
to their current operations.
This paper does not pose specific new security issues. The systems
described herein would be host database applications, however, or
even distributed host database applications. All of the normal
security considerations for that kind of system would apply.
Multiple classes of user access need to be specified for classes of
ticket data. Possible security threats include disclosure of network
information, disclosure of confidential material (e.g., circuit
numbers or home phone numbers), and denial of service to the Network
Operations Center leading to degradation of network service.
Dale S. Johnson
1075 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2112
Phone: (313) 936-2270
Discussion/comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The list
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