We're very proud to have been here since the late 80's and to have seen the creation of the internet from its early use on JANET & ARPANet to its explosive uptake in the 2000s and its now global reach. There are still some of us in the business who remember the good old days where a soldering iron was mandatory, fire was a clear and present risk and every reboot could go eitherway.
Before the GEN Partnership, which was the first significant push towards Internet based services, we specialised in Electronic Data Interchange over X.400 and X.25 with leased circuits, and we used to support mainframes and mini's such as the very popular AlphaMicro AM1000, a 68000 based system with Winchester, CDC, Priam and Pheonix hard drives, RS232 terminals and a rather ingenious backup solution using VHS tapes that never worked. We also had a software company Epsilon Software that churned out a portfolio of software for CP/M and MP/M on the 8086 processor running on systems such as the Northstar.
The Early Years
Before the Internet, there was still dial-up, but in place of websites we had Prestel, Micronet 800 and BBS (Bulletin Board Systems). Connection speeds ranged from 300 baud to 1200/75 baud which for text based services was sufficient at the time. We ran a BBS system which started with 8 Pace Nightingale modems connected to an IBM 5150 running Fido + Frontdoor. In the late 80's and early 90's along came CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, GENie and MSN, and without their considerable collective marketing of the 'online' experience, it would have taken many more years for early adopters to consider investing in an Internet presence.
We started offering Internet via Dial-up in 1990 at a blistering speed of 300baud. We had a rack of modems, custom software and a 1m/bit leased line to the Internet.
GEN launched our first email product, available via the 'Internet' in 1990 and creatively called it GENMail. It was a hybrid of X.400 and SMTP messaging and the uptake was rapid, primarily because it was FREE. GENMail brought companies into the market and through the benefits of email, businesses were gradually persuaded to invest in a web presence. Domain names were awkward to obtain, expensive and limited but the internet was very much here to stay.
When we formed the GEN Partnership in 1992 we re-focused the company towards Internet based services and invested heavily in the latest technology, and for us that was the DEC Alpha Servers, running UNIX.
At this time in the market, there were many vendors offering unix hardware such as IBM 6150 and AIX, DEC VAX, Prime, and so on. We had a good relationship with DEC so the alpha was an obvious choice at the time. These high performance servers hosted the very first CRM system that we used as well as handling provisioning and finance from that great Unix accountancy suit that we just can't remember the name of (Tetra). We also had a hosting cluster based on Santa Cruz Unix (SCO Unix) which we abandoned a year or so later when the performance on x86 just never delivered what it promised.
We provided X.25 and V92 dial-up access, X.400 EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and messaging, and various other services to UK corporates. We upgraed our existing Dial-up Service to Hayes Century R/RAS (Pictured Right)
Which took an E1 circuit with 30 channels and provided 30 concurrent calls per unit. We had 10 units at the start giving us 300 concurrent calls all at 300bps through to V92 over anologue lines and 64k (or 128k bonded) over ISDN. We struck a deal with local cable companies to provide the very first toll free dialup internet access to support bonded ISDN basic ratre (128kbps) for business users. We developed a hardware and software solution that could aggregate Motorola ISDN modems up to 6 to provide a scaleable bandwidth solution up to 768k bi directionally which was another first for GEN.
Not content with the fastest toll free and ISDN dial-up in the country we added another accolade by being the first to provide dial-up cellular access via the Motorola 6800x phone on BT Cellnet. This was an anologue device so the dial-up was modulated over the carrier giving us a blistering fast 300bps on a good day with clear weather but customers still wanted it and used it. We further enhanced this service by offering FAX relay over the cellular network to portable fax machines.
What about cloud computing? We were there again with the very first cloud based data storage solution although at the time we just called it GEN Central Storage (GCS) and it was based on the popular Novell Netware. This setup allowed customers to dial-in and upload/download files from their companies 'volume'.
How did we ever manage without Netware, and before that Banyan vines? It all seems such a long time ago, but in reality it was only 25 years. Our very first website hosting was on the DEC Alpha running a very early HTTP server who's name escapes me and we used domain names from computer solutions, latterly InterNIC to point to them long before Nominet arrived to cause chaos and confusion to the world.
In the panic that lead up to the year 2000, we were notably the only service provider who was NOT capitalising on the ludicrous Y2K frenzy and instead we offered our services FREE OF CHARGE to any company who was worried about the year change and existing hardware. This made us somewhat unpopular in the industry but that's who we are.
In 2006 we installed our first Synology Rackstation at our Sleaford Datacentre and have been a provider and supporter of Synology equipment ever since.
In 2015 we migrated some of our DSL routers to Draytek, soon after becoming a dealer and replacing the entire estate.
The Present Day
And here we are today, 25+ years later with a veritable catalogue of industry first's and a firm focus on progressive technologies GEN and its Partners continue to lead the industry today and will continue doing so well into the future. In an attempt to retain some of the past record we've archived texts from 20 years ago on our Wiki available HERE.
Note, all the images here are stock images as the equipment is long gone leaving just the memories of long hours, late nights and happy customers.