A Brief History of BITNET

The international BITNET network began in the spring of 1981 when Ira H. Fuchs and Greydon Freeman, of the City University of New York and Yale University, respectively, decided that IBM's Remote Spooling Communications Subsystem (RSCS) protocol made computer-based communication practical between their universities. BITNET, the "Because It's Time" network, began in the US as these two universities began using a leased telephone circuit for communications between accounts on their mainframe computers. BITNET eventually reached across the US to California and was joined by its European counterpart EARN (European Academic and Research Network) in 1982. Other cooperating international networks joined, in the ensuing years, to make BITNET a worldwide network.

At its peak in 1991-2, this network connected millions of users in more than 1,400 organizations in 49 countries, for the electronic non-commercial exchange of information in support of research and education. In this truly cooperative network, each participating organization contributed communications lines, intermediate storage, and the computer processing necessary to make its part of the network function. It provided electronic mail and thousands of electronic mailing lists based on the LISTSERV software for managing such lists. LISTSERV was originally created by Ira Fuchs, Dan Oberst, and Ricky Hernandez and later improved upon by Eric Thomas. BITNET was also used for transfer of data and software files, and for rapid transmission of "interactive" messages and commands to software such as LISTSERV. It was, for several years the largest academic network in the world for computer-based communications, but by the 1992-1993 time frame, the number of academic organizations connected to the Internet outnumbered those participating in BITNET. The number of BITNET participants began to decrease in 1993.

BITNET's development in the US was facilitated by an IBM grant in July 1984 which provided initial funding for the establishment of centralized network support services. The BITNET Network Information Center, BITNIC, received its initial funding from this IBM grant but after the grant's conclusion in 1987, it was funded entirely by membership dues from the participating organizations. The network continued to rely heavily on the volunteer support of its participating colleges and universities for creative new ideas and software, and for essential operational support.

A BITNET Executive Committee, consisting of representatives from the major US BITNET nodes, was formed in 1984, to develop BITNET policies and to plan for its future. In 1987 the BITNET Executive Committee formed a nonprofit corporation whose members were the organizations participating in the BITNET network. In 1989, when BITNET merged with the Computer+Science Network, CSNET, it adopted the new corporate name, the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking, CREN. (The growth of the Internet overtook CSNET in 1991, and its services were discontinued.) CREN was governed by a Board of Trustees elected by its member organizations.

BITNET users shared information via electronic mail to individuals and shared-interest groups; transferred documents, programs, and data; accessed BITNET server machines and associated data services; and sent brief interactive messages. Nearly 3,000 discussion groups on BITNET covered most topics of academic interest and had from five participants to several thousand. Gateways allowed the exchange of electronic mail between BITNET and the Internet, and also other networks.

BITNET was a "store-and-forward" network; information originated at a given BITNET-connected computer (node) was received by intermediate nodes and forwarded to its destination. Although BITNET used IBM's Remote Spooling Communications Subsystem (RSCS) protocol, VAX/VMS systems actually constituteid the majority of BITNET nodes; Unix and other systems were also supported, in addition to IBM systems running VM or MVS. 

As BITNET participants migrated onto the Internet, CREN and many of the other organizations supporting BITNET throughout the world turned their focus to supporting their members' use of the Internet and assisting in their members' migration. CREN's historic strategic mission was to support low-cost access to worldwide electronic networking and its use for the benefit of the education and research communities. CREN's mission was augmented to support institutions of higher education by providing seminars, workshops, educational and training materials, and software tools which enabled their information technology professionals to understand and exploit advances in technology; train faculty, students, and staff in strategic technology areas using distance education modules; and provide leadership in using distance education and collaboration technology. CREN ultimately focused on the Internet and the world-wide-web as the platform for such services.

CREN believed that the people who advocated and supported the information technology infrastructures on member campuses should have the opportunity to directly experience advanced technology for the delivery of training and learning materials. CREN's "Virtual Seminars" provided just such an opportunity.

CREN developed list-management software for use on low-cost Unix platforms, which was optimized to the Internet protocols and compliant with Internet standards. This software (ListProc) was available to CREN's members and also to non-members, to facilitate the development and use of electronic mailing lists.

As a Founding Organizational Member of the Internet Society, CREN continued its support of the Internet Society and its participation in the Internet Engineering Task Force to develop standards, policies, and information useful to CREN members and the broader networking community.

CREN continued to investigate and support other software and services in order to facilitate the use of networking services for the benefit and improvement of research and education.

� CREN and BITNET are registered service marks of the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking. IBM is a registered trademark of International Business Machines, Inc. Unix is a registered trademark of Unix Software Labs.