Some of the best advice from the recent Storage Decisions conference was from a set of sessions on building the perfect request for proposal (RFP). RFPs may be one of the most agonizing, labor-intensive tasks you have to do. Yet from a business perspective, they are a necessary evil. As some of you know, this process gets even more dicey if you are in the government sector.

At Storage Decisions earlier this month, experts lent a helping hand to the users working through the process. They offered this advice.

Do your homework

Do you really know what you already have in your data center? Author and SearchStorage.com SAN expert Marc Farley says the best way to get started with building a storage management RFP is "knowing what you want and knowing what you have." Discovering everything you have first will help you define exactly what you need.

Know your market

John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group, says you have to be aware of vendor news, acquisitions, storage standards such as SMI-S. You also need to track what industry organizations like SNIA and the IEEE are doing. This can have a major impact on planning your data center a few years down the road. You may be able to eliminate a few products if they are not standards or compliant-ready.

RFI before the RFP

Jamie Gruener, senior analyst at the Yankee Group, recommends that you first send out a request for information (RFI) before starting the

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RFP process. An RFI can help you figure out which vendors actually offer the products you need. This request can also help you get a vendor to brief you on their road maps and latest announcements. This can help you narrow your options and make your life a bit easier.

Play a little round robin

Once you know what you have and understand where the market is heading, then Evaluator Group Partner Randy Kerns says it's time to create a matrix of potential vendors. Randy recommends you build out a matrix that pulls all of the specs in one place -- then play a little round robin. Instead of looking at all of the potential arrays or switches at once, try to narrow it down to product A vs. product B, then product A vs. product C, then B vs. C, and so on. This way, you can get a better sense of what one product has over the next -- or where the shortcomings may be.

Writing the RFP

Farley also notes that someone from your internal team must write the RFP. DO NOT have the vendor or a consultant write your RFP for you. You know best what is in your environment and what the problems are that need to be solved. Having a third party write the RFP will lead to more headaches than it would if you had drawn up the RFP on your own, he says.

Making a decision

Marc Farley also recommends when you do get a response from a vendor, it's important to validate their terms. Ways to validate a vendor's response range from using Web-based resources, independent consultants, analysts and your own intuition. Webster also says if you can get a line-item breakdown of all the costs, it can empower you as a negotiator. Make sure to include upgrade costs, training and add-ons so you aren't blindsided by future costs.

Some common RFP mistakes

Data Mobility Group Analyst and Partner Dianne McAdam highlights some common errors made in the RFP process:

  • Not giving the vendor enough time to respond to a request -- give the vendor a reasonable amount of time. Allow one week for small proposals, up to a month for larger proposals that may have some legal challenges.
  • Underestimating growth of your environment
  • Figuring conversion costs from old to new media

    For more on building the perfect RFP, take a look at our page that highlights all of the conference sessions. There you'll be able to find RFP workbooks for switches, tape, SRM, SAN management and storage arrays.

    Also, take a look at these additional RFP resources from SearchStorage.com:

  • Get the most from a storage RFP
  • A qualification methodology
  • Five steps to selecting a storage solution provider

    This was first published in September 2003

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