Computer networking laboratories represent a key resource for ICT-oriented academic organizations. However, due to the particular nature of their users (i.e. students who must learn and experiment while working on real network equipment), it is difficult to design and implement fully functional laboratory facilities while still complying with budget, academic and management objectives. Therefore, physical laboratories are often replaced by virtual or simulated environments, which may limit the student's learning experience. This paper describes an innovative approach to the development of computer networking laboratories. The approach defines a specific management infrastructure that allows efficient performance of all the required computer and equipment maintenance tasks, while still supporting a true hands-on experience. Another important feature is the distributed nature of the laboratory infrastructure, where multiple teams of students are allowed to work simultaneously; thus fostering student interaction and teamwork experiences.