With the initial scoping work done, the next step is to craft a comprehensive RFP document that lays out the business case and explains what storage technology is needed and why. It should also provide all the financial, operational and technical assumptions and even indicate future vision.

During this phase, you should:

Pick a vendor point person. Designate someone from Purchasing to serve as the single contact point for the vendors once the RFP is on the street.

Consider vendor content. It is almost heresy to say so, but some vendor-provided RFP "samples" contain very detailed and thought-provoking material. As no vendor will provide verbiage prejudicial to their product, it needs a thorough vetting; still, if you solicit input from all parties you can obtain a real jump-start on the wording and stimulate some thinking.

Watch out for "knock-out" requirements. Because the purpose of an RFP is to facilitate choice, it seems counterintuitive that some organizations issue RFPs with requirements that only one vendor can meet--yet it happens regularly. Screen the document for those technical requirements which will result in only one responsive bidder.

Include many details. When it comes to RFP content, brevity is not the

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soul of wit. Specifications should be broken down into many categories: array/storage area network (SAN) hardware and software, backup and recovery hardware and software training, implementation,

connectivity, availability, replication, integration, interoperability, servicing, maintenance, operational attributes, storage resource management (SRM) and so on. Also, consider using shareware sites which offer RFP templates to download.

Be clear. Each requirement in every category should be precisely worded with no ambiguity. Some RFPs go further--consultant Brown includes an analysis section for his RFPs that shows how technical requirements are derived so that vendors understand the underlying assumptions.

Avoid unintended consequences. Some organizations fashion a solution as though it were the only one installed in the data center. Any technology deployment of substance affects existing systems. Each touch point between the potential solution and existing technology should be identified.

Set priorities. Identify the relative degree of importance for each RFP requirement. You don't have to inform the vendors about how you intend to score the RFP responses. Still, you should give the vendors some indication as to what the most important requirements are so they can allocate their responses according to your criteria.

Distribute widely. Make sure that the document is sent to a reseller or original manufacturer of all major storage technologies. Also, ensure that at least two integrators receive the RFP.

Master the matrix. Get all internal parties to agree on the proper "weightings" for each RFP requirement. This can be an elaborate process with a different percentage for each item or it could be more of a summary. Either way, this evaluation matrix should provide the sole prism through which vendor submittals are reviewed.

This was first published in June 2004

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