A network-upgrade horror story, part 2: bidding the project

An IT executive tells the key lessons that he learnt during a four-year project to revamp his university's whole network.

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Now that we had the design characteristics down, it was time to bid the project. This is where we hit our first speed bump. What is the best way to procure a project of this size and complexity? Should it be an RFP? An RFQ? Or some sort of hybrid of the two? Should we create one large master RFP covering every aspect of the project or divide up the bid into several smaller procurement vehicles?

In thinking this through, it was obvious this would be such a complex project that we weren't entirely sure we could cover everything with a single procurement vehicle.

We realised there were three elements in the project, which corresponded closely to the OSI model. One was the fibre infrastructure - often referred to as Layer 0. The second element was the optical DWDM gear, or Layer 1. Finally, there was the Ethernet element, or the Layer 2 and Layer 3 equipment. We could therefore issue multiple bids for the fibre infrastructure and optical equipment. Another bid would be for the Ethernet equipment.

Breaking the RFP into components offered the additional advantage of making the procurement documents easier to write and evaluate. Plus, this offered an advantage to vendors, who might be unable to bid on all components of the network.

In July 2004, as we were doing our analysis of the fibre-infrastructure responses, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a landmark decision permitting PG&E and other utilities to sell unused strands of dark fibre to third parties. This created alternatives that became known as "managed and integrated" services.

With dark fibre we would own and operate the fibre network. Managed fibre would let the service provider own and operate the fibre network while UCSF owned and operated the optical DWDM gear. The integrated option offered a turnkey package that provided multiple lambdas through the utility-owned fibre. The carrier would both provide the fibre infrastructure and own and operate the DWDM gear.

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