When you’re learning to build and configure computer networks, it helps to get your hands dirty—at least digitally speaking. The catch is that learning on telecommunications networks that people depend on is a dicey proposition.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony today, however, students, faculty and staff at the University of Maryland will be formally introduced to a new place to safely build, configure and test—allowing them to experiment freely without risking network operations in the outside world.

The new Juniper Networks Laboratory in the A.V. Williams Building was constructed and equipped thanks to a generous gift to the A. James Clark School of Engineering—part of a growing partnership with the company Juniper Networks, headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.

The lab will support undergraduate and graduate programs in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), with courses that incorporate networking, virtualization and design, and machine learning. Among the offerings will be senior capstone design courses and classes within ECE’s master’s in telecommunications program.

The 1,000-square-foot lab features Juniper networking devices, including 84 EX access switches, 56 SRX-240 routers/security devices, 30 MX5 routers and five servers. The lab houses its own networking environment, which is isolated from UMD’s production network.

“The new lab will create an exceptional environment for our undergraduate and graduate students to learn and experiment with the latest technologies in network design and automation, network virtualization, data center operations and management, and big data analytics,” said Professor Joseph JaJa, chairman of the ECE department.

ECE alumnus Bikash Koley M.S. ’97 Ph.D. ’00, Juniper Networks’ executive vice president and chief technology officer, was instrumental in securing the gift for this lab. It’s just the latest step in the department’s history with the company, which includes ECE membership in the Juniper Networks Academic Alliance and several previous equipment donations. Juniper is also a top job and internship destination for students in the department.

“Networking in the cloud era requires highly skilled people, and yet a pressing shortage of skilled technologists is likely to increase in the next few years,” said Koley, previously a Google distinguished engineer and head of network architecture, engineering and planning for the web search giant. “It is our responsibility to prepare the next generation of technologists, and this lab is one tangible way we are investing in the future.”