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Recently, the Department for Education published new guidance to schools and colleges on the standards they should meet in a range of key categories, including network switching.  

However, many schools feel perplexed by the guidance and are in need of support to understand why the standards matter and how to choose network switching that meets government guidelines. In this article, we aim to demystify the guidance and provide practical tips for ensuring that you meet the standards needed for switch performance, management, security and resilience.  

Why do digital and technology standards matter?  

As technology in schools advances rapidly, and teaching and learning increasingly rely heavily on internet connectivity, the DfE has produced guidance to support schools to choose the right digital infrastructure and technology. The DfE advises that meeting the standards helps schools to make informed decisions about technology, increasing budget efficiency, and school safety but ultimately enhancing teaching and learning.  

In the past, schools may have relied on consultancy with outside agencies to know what equipment to use and what is best for their needs. The new guidelines allow schools to ensure that suppliers have set standards to work to and meet the needs of the end user setting.  

The guidance currently covers four key categories and will be expanded to meet others in the future:  

Why do network switching standards matter?  

Thanks to many schools offering a device on a per-pupil and staff basis, helping them to utilise technology further within their teaching, the number of users in school accessing school networks at the same time is ever-increasing. Ensuring that you have the right network switching solution means that the network speed remains consistent as the number of devices accessing it increases. 

The requirements can be broken down into two categories, the hardware requirements and the configuration requirements.

What hardware standards does the network switching need to meet?  

The switches need to meet the following standards:  

  • Provide a minimum of 1Gbps connectivity to desktop user devices  
  • Provide a minimum of 2.5Gbps connection to each Wireless Access Point 
  • Be stacked appropriately, with 40Gbps connections between switches in a stack  
  • Connections linking switches or switch stacks in hub rooms must connect back to the core server room using a minimum of 2x10Gbps with links taking different routes where possible
  • Switches providing POE should adhere to IEEE or bt as required by the connecting device and have LLDP-Med enabled
  • Have a minimum of 512MB of core memory, support a minimum of 16000 MAC addresses, support spanning tree protocols such as MST or RST and use non-blocking switch fabric
  • Switches should comply with Energy Efficient Ethernet to a minimum of 802.3az (or equivalent) 

Critical Core Switches also have additional standards to meet: 

  • Must have two power supplies, two management modules and two connections to other critical infrastructure (such as routers, servers or other core switches)
  • Needs to be connected to a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) in case of power failure 

What configuration standards does the network switching need to meet? 

In addition to the physical hardware requirements, network switching also needs to meet the following brief: 

  • 5-year warranty and support (including licenses, software enhancements and updates) 
  • Have configuration documentation in place, ensuring any changes are secure and documented
  • Software updates should automatically occur, with manual checks in place too
  • Have a platform that allows the network switching infrastructure to be centrally managed and performance monitored 
  • Network segregation, including Network Access Controls (NACs) and policy management for mobile devices and guest users 
  • Have security features in place and be configured to block unauthorised access to school networks, both internally and externally 

How can Link ICT Services support schools to meet the standards?  

When reading the standards, many schools may be feeling overwhelmed by the list of requirements. The DfE advises that you should make full use of your supplier or in-house IT support team to ensure that your network switches make the standards. Link ICT Services can provide a start-to-finish service, quoting switches that meet your requirements, procuring them at the best possible pricing and installing and configuring your network to meet the DfE standards.