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PRASA to revamp enterprise network

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The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is looking to enter a five-year contract, which will see its nationwide ICT network being replaced.

The scope of work includes its campus, data centre, various offices, stations, depots, wide area and metropolitan area networks, with two years to complete the implementation, followed by three years of support and maintenance.

In the tender documentation, PRASA reveals the first phase of its current network was commissioned in 2009 and the second phase in 2012.

This network allows the convergence of multiple networks to transport all data service information across single coherent network architecture using PRASA-owned fibre-optic networks that run along the railway lines.

“Unfortunately, these networks have reached end-of-life and end-of-support. As a result, there is a requirement for a complete refresh,” it says.

“The main objective to bear in mind is to simplify operations and, therefore, lower operating expenses, whilst providing the highest levels of services delivery, reliability, bandwidth access, manageability and access to business intelligence.”

The services transported on PRASA's network are broken down into three classes:

  • Business services, which allow local and remote users access to applications, as well as the transport of data centre application data for application communication, data backup, business intelligence, etc.
  • ICT services, such as SAP, e-mail, internal LAN access, file and print functions, intranet as well as internet access, and multimedia communication, which internal users require to complete their day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Operational services are the customer-facing services PRASA deploys to support the business operation and improve the commuter experience. This includes ticketing, CCTV, PA systems, digital signage, public help points, access control and wireless communications to the new trains, among others.

Making space for smaller players

PRASA has divided the project into what it calls eight work packages, with a note to interested parties that proposals must cover all work packages.

While this requirement rules out direct participation by smaller and more specialised companies, the agency has stipulated it is compulsory that bids include a minimum subcontracting of 30% of the value of the contract in line with Section 9 of government's Preferential Procurement regulations.

PRASA adds: “Respondent/s are discouraged from subcontracting with their subsidiary companies, as this may be interpreted as subcontracting with themselves and/or using their subsidiaries for fronting.”

The requirement led Altron to question whether the 30% subcontracting would only apply to the local portion of the contract value, as: “it is expected that the majority of the total contract value will be procured from foreign [original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)], from which local EME/QSE entities cannot procure due to them not having the necessary OEM contracts and skills certifications in place”.

In response, PRASA clarified that the stipulation applied to the total contract value and urged that subcontractors be supported to obtain all the necessary certifications where required.

It's all in the packaging

PRASA's subdivision of the scope of work into eight “work packages” gives the agency, as well as the successful bidder, a clear roadmap of the project, its stages and deliverables.

In “work package A”, a new, next-generation, fibre-based metropolitan area network (MAN) is to be delivered in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, connecting all PRASA stations and depots in the respective regions to the regional data centres via existing PRASA fibre infrastructure and redundant DWDM/dark fibre or third-party L2 links.

Additionally, fibre-based aggregation and access ring networks – using existing fibre infrastructure – is to be delivered, connecting stations, substations and depots to the regional MAN core network. Underlay transport must be proposed to offer connection redundancy.

“Work package B” deals with the delivery of a next-generation inter- and intra-data centre network in Gauteng and a disaster recovery site in Durban. The next-generation data centre is expected to have the orchestration controller that is able to automate and manage the infrastructure, among other capabilities.

The design and replacement of all existing ICT network infrastructure in various PRASA campuses/stations across the regions is dealt with in “work package C”.

The resultant network – both wired and wireless – should be able to offer data services across single coherent network architecture spanning business, ICT and various building management services, such as access control, smart CCTV and power metering.

“Work package D” deals with network security and seeks the design of a modern, modular, layered approach to be followed in assuring network and all IP traffic security. The solution should provide holistic end-to-end security for the PRASA network, from the data centre to the endpoint, remote and local connectivity.

“Work package E” is the supply and implementation of tier one network management and monitoring solutions able to ensure visibility of network and application performance, simplify management, and be securely accessible from anywhere by the support team.

PRASA establishes an “as and when” contract for the provision of cabling and facilities related infrastructure in “work package F”; while “work package G” provides for accredited training services and knowledge transfer for the agency's internal resources.

Finally, “work package H” deals with the post-implementation shift into the network maintenance and support contract, which is to run for three years.

Industry players chip in

PRASA's request for proposals has attracted significant interest from the ICT industry, resulting in over 200 queries from potential bidders, with BCX and Cisco submitting 64 and 33 respectively.

This has led to the agency making changes to the specified bill of quantities and pricing schedule, as well as pushing the submission deadline to 1 October.

Broadband Infraco's participation in the question and answer process provides a reminder that government's plan to merge the company with Sentech to form the proposed State Digital Infrastructure Company is well under way.

When outlining the strategy in 2017, the then Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services noted the next phase in the strategy as incorporating the fibre networks of PRASA, Eskom and Transnet into the entity.

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