Supplier diversity hallmark of Government Shared Network

Up to 18 sub-projects mooted with the aim of providing the 'most comprehensive' capability

The Government's Shared Network (GSN) project is being split into a myriad of sub-projects which will demand a high-level of co-operation from any number of vendors.

The Request for Proposal for the GSN splits the task into 18 sub-projects and will entertain independent bids for most of these. In only five pairs of sub-projects has the State Services Commission expressed a definite preference for the same supplier of both.

For example, service management and billing platform or node datacentres and data storage are considered best provided by the same source, as are "internet perimeter edge and core infrastructure" and "internet perimeter management." Another three pairs of sub-projects and one group of three (web hosting, SEE mail services and LDAP directory services) are flagged as "mildly preferred" to come from the same supplier.

This clearly means there could be a very complicated supplier structure, calling for a good deal of inter-vendor co-operation and mutual confidence by suppliers and purchaser in the deployment and subsequent management of the network's elements and interfaces, with scope for miscommunication and finger-pointing.

Some potential bidders indicated misgivings on this front last month but on formal receipt of the document are bound to stay silent on the RFP and all matters connected with it without explicit permission from the SSC.

The objective of the multi-supplier strategy is "to obtain the most comprehensive information on the market's capability in respect of the sourcing of components against clear specifications for a design that has been developed and validated with government agencies," says SSC spokesman Michael Foley.

This, he points out, is in contrast with the more common approach of "presenting a challenge to the supplier market and requesting solutions to that challenge."

He acknowledges that there is "a service delivery risk trade-off" in adopting a supplier diversity strategy."The evaluation process will include consideration of this trade-off in selection of the supplier mix and [in the end] it is likely that [many] sourcing categories will be provided by single organisations," Foley says.

The multi-supplier plan ensures contestability of supply, say SSC's notes to the RFP. Supplier diversity will aklso "ensure resilience of the network and reduce single points of failure," the Commission says.

To maximise security, suppliers for the edge and core of the main network infrastructure are not allowed to supply products or services for the internet perimater zone, unless their two supplying teams can demonstrate clear role separation "beyond doubt".

The network is planned to have two nodes in Wellington and one in Auckland. It will provide nationwide data, secure email and internet service, and in the longer term voice transmission, to and among the agencies that wish to participate. Secure metropolitan area networks (MANs) are to be provided to serve inter-agency communication in Wellington and Auckland, with a wide-area network extending to the rest of the country. At least 1 Gbit/s bandwidth is to be provided between the hubs and agency nodes on the MANs.

Two lead suppliers will be responsible for the operational management of the netwoek, one as GSN service manager and the other GSN internet perimeter manager.

Respondents are expected already to have signalled the categories in which each intends to bid, and RFP responses are due by the end of this month. Evaluations will be completed during November and respondents notified of their selection or otherwise by December 20.

"Several" government agencies are already preparing to join a pilot of the network in the first half of 2006, and full deployment and fine tuning in the second half of that year, the SSC says.

Participation is open to departments, Crown agents, autonomous Crown entities and local government agencies. "Other agencies connected with government may be invited to participate", the SSC says.

As earlier indicated (Computerworld May 30, page 3) use of the GSN will not be mandatory, but "government departments will be required and other government agencies will be invited to formally evaluate use of the GSN when their cutrrent network supply contracts expire or are renegotiated."

Advantages seen include an impetus to smoother collaboration among participating agencies and an opportunity for the government to "show leadership uin the use of innovative technology to support better service delivery and greater efficiency."

Centralised enforcement of confidentiality and protection against malware is also seen as an advantage of a unified network.

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