RFC hits the street for $500M managed networks pact

The U.S. Postal Service recently released a request for comments for its Managed Network Services (MNS) contract, worth more than $500 million, according to some estimates, making it one of the largest outsourcing contracts for a network and the biggest contract for a routed internetwork outside FTS 2000.

USPS will use the contract to expand its Postal Routed Network (PRN) from the current 550 sites to 34,000. The contractor, which will own and operate the PRN, is expected to provide dedicated network connectivity to 7,000 sites within a two-year time frame and switched networks or other low-cost connectivity at up to 27,000 smaller sites.

The MNS contract will allow USPS to "update services we offer from our counters, to bring that on-line [in order] to better control products we sell and [to] track services we're offering," said Dan McPhillips, acting manager of USPS' National Network Service Center in Raleigh, N.C., which will oversee the services to be provided under the contract.

Expanding the PRN will allow USPS to extend existing links among district offices, processing and distribution plants and other large facilities to the associate-level offices, which include post offices, branches and stations. MNS will support new infrastructure projects, including the Point of Service (POS) I system, which will replace aging Integrated Retail Terminals with 85,000 new POS I terminals starting this summer.

Work under the 11-year, single-award contract covers cabling, network design, installation and services, network management and operations, and infrastructure equipment deployment. The National Network Service Center currently manages the PRN.

"What we are doing is placing the corporate infrastructure in post offices and providing it as a corporate utility so applications can plug into that," said Ray Morgan, manage of information technology plans and standards at USPS. "The [PRN] infrastructure will enable post offices to access corporate databases that they don't have access to now."

Three Tiers for PRN

These databases hold information on any service that is offered at post offices, including rates and permit mailings.

The PRN is designed as a three-tiered routed network based on Bay Networks (formerly Wellfleet) routers. The first tier is a private, frame-relay meshed network consisting of 15 nodes, the second tier that connects 100 sites will soon be all public frame relay, and the 400-plus sites in the third tier connect to the network via T-1 links.

USPS decided to outsource the contract because it does not have the resources to implement a project of this size on its own, especially at the pace that was called for.

"We felt the industry is well-positioned to provide the service that we have been providing ourselves," Morgan said.

Systems integrators have already expressed interest in the contract.

"In our view, we see it as [being worth] greater than half a billion dollars," said Pat Ways, group vice president of business development at Computer Sciences Corp. "We are making a decision about bidding it. I believe we probably will."

Bay Networks wants to be part of a team, said Rob Wood, national account manager at the company, who also estimated the contract at more than half a billion dollars.

"The most interesting characteristic of this is the sheer size; it's enormous," Wood said. "USPS is present in almost 37,000 locations around the country, so anything they do gets done in a big way."

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