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Engineering the Internet

From Virginia Engineering Newsletter
April 1, 1999

With fifty million people worldwide using the Internet--projected to 175 million by the year 2001--we need Internet engineers we can count on. That is one big reason for all the excitement over the Virginia Internet Laboratory--the nation's first laboratory designed for educating undergraduates to operate and improve the backbone systems that carry internet traffic.

With donations of router equipment worth more than $1 million from MCI Telecommunications and Cisco Systems, the new laboratory is expected to be a pilot for other leading engineering schools.

"The lessons we learn from the U.Va. pilot project will help us shape similar programs at about 20 other universities throughout the United States over the next two years," said Vinton G. Cerf, senior vice president of MCI Communications.

"We're extremely grateful for this gift and intend to use the new laboratory as the foundation for increased teaching and research in the field of information technology," says Dean Richard Miksad. "We have a talented faculty and great students eager to advance the technology of the Internet. Now we have a facility that will allow us to become a leader in that field."

Just one of the Cisco 7000 routers installed in the laboratory would be sufficient to handle all of U.Va.'s external Internet traffic; Cisco contributed twelve such routers to the lab, ensuring communications power capable of supporting the volume and intensity of use expected in the laboratory, as the program in Internet engineering courses grows and diversifies.

As an indication of the enthusiasm for this field of study, more than 100 students, including many in graduate school, applied for the 32 places available in the first class in Internet engineering offered this spring, says Jorg Liebeherr, assistant professor of computer science, who is teaching the course. He filtered the number of applicants by admitting only undergraduates who had completed a prerequisite course in Computer Networks.

"There is a great deal of excitement, because as far as we know, this is the only laboratory in higher education that has equipment of this type," said Liebeherr. "It's very expensive, and only through the gift from MCI/Worldcom and Cisco could we afford it."

Students in the new course are learning how Internet backbone systems work, where faults may occur, and how to analyze and correct them. This is a field where the technology has leapt ahead of engineering schools' programs to teach about it.

"There is a definite need for this expertise," says Liebeherr. "Our students will learn how the components contact and communicate with each other, and how to work around a machine that goes down. They will be the first generation of a new profession: Internet engineers."

Original Article | Local Copy


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