IBM Information Network, IBM Global Network: A brief
history



In 1982, IBM announced it’s commercial online service. The IBM Information Network (IBM IN), later named the IBM
Global Network (IBM GN), was the first online service provider to focus on open multi-enterprise online interconnection
of networks. In just a few years, IBM IN grew to become he world leader and model for any to any online activity. By
1996 when it converted from IBM SNA to IP, the IBM GN was the world’s largest most successful commercial online
service provider at that time.

Before IBM IN was announced, there were millions of users on thousands of isolated company and government
networks.  There were other Value Added Networks (VANs) selling closed online services to government and
business.  

Initially, IBM’s network was not a unique but was just another VAN selling closed online and cloud type services to
business and government enterprises. When IBM IN was one year old, it changed it’s focus.  It officially adopt the first
open architecture and strategy to interconnect all online networks to allow any to any among interconnected networks.
It also changed to begin selling online services to IBM.  In fact, IBM became IBM IN’s most important customer.  The
Information Network approach was to establish connections between IBM and it’s customers and suppliers to do
online electronic customer support then establish any to any online communication using the single connection to
IBM’s network.  Once IBM’s customers and suppliers were connected to IBM IN to do electronic business with IBM, the
same connection could be layered for online electronic business communication with any other customer. IBM IN had
interconnection with competing online service providers allowing the first structured interconnections of online
networks with the any to any approach.   


Before the IBM IN open any to any multi-enterprise services, there were millions of online users on tens of thousands
of closed internal enterprise networks.  Security and usage authorization was contained within each of the individual
closed online communities or companies. The IBM IN basic design provided a secure gateway between all the closed
company and government online networks allowing them to have open but protected access to all other company or
government online networks worldwide.  Security was provided by the IBM IN developed Service Manager.  It also
provided usage tracking data. The Service Manager had three fields, a user ID, an account field and a password field.  
Once a user was authorized to the Service Manager, they could go through it to any of the other attached network
applications they were authorized to access. That means that: A single logon allowed online access to all authorized
online applications on any company or government network when authorized.  Users did not have a myriad of IDs and
passwords required to access applications on interconnected networks.  As a function of the Service Manager, there
was a limited Directory Services layer.  The registration process was always the first step to begin or add application
access.


Since IBM was the IBM IN’s most important customer, a small sales and support team was put in place to sell online
service to IBM.  That approach was consistent with the Systems Management processes that came out of the IBM
Systems Center in 1979.  The sales and support team promoted the online electronic customer support and
electronic business approach.  


The new process of Electronic Customer Support (ECS) applications were a big draw.  Before all the individual
customer online networks were connected to IBM’s online network, most software support required hand delivery of
fixes. All software companies had manual process to deliver software support.  IBM had begun limited dial in software
support for some it’s newest machines.  All other software support by IBM and it’s competitors was manual.  When a
customer of IBM needed software support, the System Engineer or Program Support Representative would go to an
IBM facility with online access to IBM’s internal networks.  They would do research and load a fix on a tape.  Then they
would drive back to the customer location. Since the information was in electronic form, it could have been delivered
electronically if there had been a connection between IBM and the customer.  In 1980, an IBM Washington System
Center Representative who worked in the Systems Management department defined and suggested a customer
satisfaction and productivity approach.  Provide electronic delivery for all software support instead of hand delivery to
save time and expense.  He wrote the an Architecture and Strategy to interconnect all online networks then
electronically do business between and among all online networks.  It was based on one original statement: “If it can
be recorded electronically, it can be delivered electronically”.  It initiated the philosophy that any user on any network
should be able to communicate with any user on any other network and should be able to access any application on
any network when authorized.


The IBM Information Network formally embraced the ECS architecture and strategy in 1983. The approach is simple.
Step 1, Many of IBM’s customers were also suppliers. Connecting both customers and suppliers made it a two way
electronic business solution. That prime driver was the IBM support services delivered electronically.  – Step 2, Once
IBM’s customers and suppliers were connected to a common network for electronic business with IBM, those same
customers and suppliers could use the same connection to perform their own electronic business with their
customers and suppliers. Step two was a simple expansion of the IBM to many to allow any to any. The cost benefit
work had been completed for communication with IBM.  The subsequent business to business electronic
communication was virtually cost free productivity gain. – Step 3,  While step one and two concentrated primarily on
IBM and it’s large and medium size customers and suppliers, step three went after other enterprises or smaller
enterprises who might not be IBM customers or suppliers. A person who makes belts for a retailer might have just a
PC. Their electronic business activity could also be conducted through the global network. – Step 4 consisted of the
end customer who is the general public who purchased anything from any company.  That leads to Step 5 which is the
ultimate goal to allow the architect (and you) to communicate with those who he does business with as well as
friends and family along with access to a myriad information sources, applications or users including eventual social
networks.  


IBM IN had special programs to provide electronic customer support until 1985 when IBM formally introduced
InfoExpress which was a method of electronically delivering services that had been hand delivered.  InfoExpress
allowed IBM Customers to access IBM systems with information and support for IBM products. That was the a major
step to advance what we take for granted today.  


In the mid 1980's it was relatively uncommon to remotely takeover or view a computer.  IBM delivered Cooperative
Viewing Support Facility (C-VIEW) which was a dial up tool to allow remote viewing of a computer.  In 1987, the IBM
Information Network installed C- VIEW to create Remote Screen Viewing Support Facility which was a lease line tool
to allow remote viewing of a computer.  That application allowed IBM technical support center representatives on IBM
internal networks to remotely view customer applications on attached customer networks.


Multi-enterprise email was one of the most popular electronic business applications.  IBM IN led the way when it
announced the connection of IBM’s internal email to customer’s email.  IBM IN had a gateway to interconnect IBM’s
internal email to any other email application in any company that was connected to IBM IN or to any other online
service provider. The gateway provided translation between the different email applications inside customer networks
and other online service provider using X.400 addresses.



December 1987, the ChrismaExec hit the world.  Also know as the Christmas Tree EXEC, it was the first widely
dispersed email virus or computer worm. It caused massive disruption on world wide networks including European
Academic Research Network (EARN), and the BITNET.  It also impacted IBM's worldwide VNET. IBM IN closed it’s
email gateway which stopped the multi-enterprise transmission through IBM IN. The IBM and IBM IN  security teams
help other worldwide organizations eradicate the worm and track it to it’s origination.  



IBM IN led the way in Electronic Data Interchange EDI through it’s EDI gateway.  A sponsor company such as a major
retailer would contact their suppliers and request that they call IBM IN to establish a leased line or dial up EDI
connection. For example: a small company might sell belts to retailers.  Large companies such as retailers who were
already connected to IBM IN for ECS or any other reason would contact the small company such as a belt supplier and
request that they call IBM IN to establish an EDI connection.  The IBM IN support team helped the small company in
the process of beginning their electronic business doing EDI.  Once the small company was electronically doing
business with one company, additional EDI and other electronic business layers were easy.


IBM IN worked with all levels of government and industry groups.  The various state and industry enterprises were
connected to IBM IN for ECS support from IBM. Then they used the same  connection to do state to state as well as
industry to industry email and other applications.



The rapid growth of the IBM IN ECS connectivity was noted by the Chairman of the Board of IBM who initiated a
program called Quantum Leap.  The purpose was to accelerate the interconnection of all networks using the IBM
Information Network.




The IBM IN/GN architecture and strategy was include in an IBM internal document in 1987 that included all the
“architectures” from all the separate IBM internal networks. All the other networks submissions had technical
descriptions about how their networks worked. The IBM IN/GN submission included the architecture and strategy to
interconnect or merge all networks and to allow any user on any network to communicate with any user on any
network and to access any application when authorized.  



By 1988, the IBM IN/GN Architecture and Strategy for any to any network convergence was well known in the online
networking world.  When NSF contracted for IBM MCI and Merrit build a new IP and new closed NSFNET, the IBM IN
open architecture was somewhat included in the approach. However; the new NSFNET initially had the same fair use
rules that specifically limited use to Government.  Academic, and Research.  It specifically excluded any to any
business and social networking the Internet is now known for.   Initially, the NSFNET did not meet the official
government  definition of Internet with any to any public and private traffic.  It took legislation to permit the NSFNET to
connect to open commercial networks and to carry commercial traffic.  After the NSFNEt connected to MCI Mail, the
NSFNET joined the older larger commercial Internet.


The USA and World economic growth through the 1980s and 1990s tracks to productivity that came as a result of
businesses converting to electronic delivery through the IBM Global Network and other online services providers.  The
world’s electronic business productivity gain was peaking by mid to late 1990s just as the worlds economic growth
was about to peak.  



1992 IBM IN Merged with a Value Added Network delivered by Sears Roebuck and company to form Advantis.  


1994 IBM Global Network consisted of Advantis in the US and IBM Information Network operations worldwide. It had
tens of thousands of businesses and government agency customers worldwide.  It had millions of users in over 100
countries.  


Before IBM GN made the switch from being an online service provider using SNA to an online ISP using IP in 1996, it
was the biggest customer of the three largest telephone companies in the USA. In addition to using more
transmission facilities of the three phone companies than any of their other customers, it had significant in house
owned transmission facilities.


May 1997 IBM acquired the remainder of Sears portion of Advantis and changed the name to IBM Global Network


December 1998 IBM sold the Global Network to ATT.  It remains one of the most successful ISPs.