IBM VNET

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VNET is an international computer networking system deployed in the mid-1970s and still in current, but highly diminished use. It was developed inside IBM and provided the main email and file-transfer backbone for the company throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Through it, a number of protocols were developed to deliver email amongst time sharing computers over alternate transmission systems.

VNET was first deployed as a private host to host network among CP/67 and VM/370 mainframes beginning before 1975. It was based on RSCS, a virtual machine based communications program. RSCS used synchronous data link protocols, not SNA/SDLC, to support file to file transfer among virtual machine users. The first several nodes included Scientific Centers and Poughkeepsie, New York lab sites.

RSCS compatible communications code was subsequently developed for MVT/HASP, MVT/ASP and MVS mainframe operating systems. By September 1979, the network had grown to include 285 mainframe nodes in Europe, Asia and North America. Unlike the Internet, VNET switched files among mainframes using a store and forward technique. Many of the early connections operated over dial-up phone lines at speeds of 1200 to 2400 bits per second. The addition of a 19.2 kbit/s trans-Atlantic satellite circuit in late 1977 was considered a major step forward.

End users typically sent files between 100 and 100,000 bytes in length. The user could expect delivery within 1 minute to several hours. File delivery was acknowledged on a hop by hop basis but there was no end to end delivery confirmation. However, by the late 1970s an email application was developed that provided delivery confirmation as well as message archiving. What began as a research activity among engineers and scientists became by 1980, a valuable business asset for many organizations within IBM.

The first widely disruptive computer worm, "Christmas Tree EXEC" in December 1987, originated on BITNET and spread to this network.

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Interview with VNET creator Edson Hendricks