Our Heritage and Journey

3 Decades of Service Excellence

The Early Years

The firm has a rich heritage in the field of Information Technology, marked by a litany of pioneering milestones and innovations. The partnership was established in 1989 by Richard Taylor (Alpha), Ross Clarke (HP) and Steve Smedley (DEC), and has been integral to the evolution of the internet and IT services in the UK, and we are the UK's oldest Business ISP. We formalised the Partnership and adopted Global Enterprise Network, the name of our EDI solution, which was X25/X400 based. As the internet arrived, we changed Network to Networks and adopted GEN Professional in 1992 to signify our separation from the domestic markets. Over our three decades of innovation we have the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in tech, both past and present, and actively participate in the future of the UK's technical community.


GEN Logo from 2001
Original GEN Logo

Pre-Internet

Before the advent of the internet, GEN specialised in Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) over X.400 and X.25 with leased circuits. We supported mainframes and mini-computers, such as AlphaMicro, IBM, Prime, HP etc. This period was characterised by technologies that now seem antiquated, like the use of VHS tapes for backup solutions and RS232 terminals. Whilst many of these systems were based loosely on Unix, their various flavours and technologies made interoperability tricky and GEN provided middleware together with interconnectivity allowing cross platform messaging and data interchange.

The Early Internet

GEN witnessed and contributed to the early stages of the Internet, providing one of the first commercial dial-up Internet services, transitioning from older forms of online communication like X25, X400 and Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs). Our initial trial setup consisted of 8 Pace Nightingale modems and a 256k leased line from BT, connected to an IBM 5150, indicative of the technology of the time.


At this time, PIPEX was our only competitor in the market, and we enjoyed a friendly rivalry for a time before the market exploded.

Innovations in Connectivity

In the early 90s, GEN launched GENMail, blending X.400, FidoMail and SMTP messaging. This was a significant step in bringing businesses online and popularising email with entry level services provided free of charge to small businesses. GEN also played a role in expanding internet connectivity, exclusively offering services such as toll-free dial-up and 64/128k ISDN internet access long before BTWholesale, even pioneering cellular modem access via BT Cellnet in concert with BT. We were the first ever company to incorporate PGP encryption into email services, which was, at the time, thought to be unnecessary by most, and today we still provide encrypted email.


We became a certified Intel Advanced Networking Partner, writing BIOS code for early intel network cards, and deploying Intel's Network portfolio in our east coast data-centre with some of the very first layer 2ish switches, and we collectively developed Intel Insight, an early forerunner of RMON based on Intel's switches and routers.

The first Websites

Sleaford Standard Newspaper November 1996 GEN's first website hosting platform was based on two DEC AlphaServers and hosted http/1 and served very early HTML and SGML. GEN introduced early Microsoft hosting based on Windows NT and HP LH4 Servers a couple of years later. For a short time an OS2 Warp web server was in operation in co-operation with IBM, but this was short lived. With DEC's financial troubles, we expanded hosting with Sun Microsystems and solaris based webs-servers and finally migrated again to early Linux based Servers.


To the right is an advertisement in the Sleaford Standard on November 28 1996 (full page available on request), which shows our portfolio was already extensive, and touting high level encryption long before anyone else thought they needed it. Our directory service (long before Microsoft's Active Directory) was a solution that allowed single sign-on for users to our internet, email, GCS and other systems, and this was unique in the industry at the time. We also had interconnects to networks not on the 'internet' yet, such as BLAZE and JANET and these could be accessed by dial-in users.


GEN was involved with the of the VideoLink system, and it was one of the first video conferencing solutions to be commercially available. The system was designed to be user-friendly and easy to use, and it gained popularity among businesses and organisations looking for a cost-effective way to conduct video conferences.


Dial-up

As dial-up exploded, GEN sourced Hayes Century R/RAS platform for high density connectivity. Each Rack would support 1 E1 circuit and 30 channels (30 analogue dial-in or 15 ISDN2 Bonded Dial in), and GEN had 8 of these allowing for 240 simultaneous connections initially, but as market exploded this was increased up to 80 units in total making GEN the largest operator of Hayes Century products in the world, with dial-up POPs (Point of presence) in 10 countries.


GEN was the first company to offer ISDN2 bonded circuits for aggregating bandwidth over digital dial-up, each channel was 64K, and each NTU could bond two channels to give 128k, and the 'Gateway' service, aptly named 'Office Gateway' or OG could handle up to 8 ISDN2 devices, giving a maximum of 512k. The software on the gateway, which was a caching proxy server running on Windows NT was able to measure network demand and bring up more circuits as needed, which again was a first in the Industry.


When GEN introduced toll-free Dial-in on the Diamond Cable network, customers could keep channels up 24/7 at no cost and this was a year before toll-free dial-up in the UK. For customers outside of the Diamond cable area, we negotiated a deal with Affinity for an ingress cost of 1p/min which was unheard of at the time, allowing businesses to connect at a fixed cost, and this service was offered at a fixed price of £100/pcm which for 64k access.


By the time BTWholesale Dial-up became a 'thing' businesses needed more bandwidth than 56k or 64k or even 512k and at the time the cost of private circuits was becoming far more sensible. GEN partnered with BT.net to deliver these fast (relatively at the time) connections from 64k up to 10Mbit before the arrival of DSL.

GEN Dial-up from 2002

The Highest Software

In 1990, GEN was selected to provide the firmware for a communications satellite, interfacing flight control and microwave communications hardware with a computer system that could operate on its own, but also could take commands from a ground station. This was based on OS-9000 hardware developed by MIPS, and for obvious reasons it had to be able to handle any eventuality, since even our most comprehensive service level agreements didn't include site visits to orbit. There were three OS-9000 backplanes, 3 processors, 3 memory cards, 3 io cards, and 6 power supplies. Two of the OS-9000 racks were duplicates in every way right down to the code, but the third was the monitor, responsible for supervising the other two chassis's and it had the ability to power up, power down, reboot, and control each of the chassis's individually. The main comms channel was in-band but we also had an out-of-band antenna that could connect directly to the monitor at 300-baud if for some reason the downconverter failed. The satellite had an operating lifespan of 40 years since it was designed to operate over a wide range of frequencies and protocols, which for a satellite is a long time. Its nice to know that our software is still orbiting the planet, which also makes us the 'Highest' UK business service provider.

GEN are the FIRST cloud storage provider

GEN was an early adopter of cloud storage and our first data storage solution, GEN Central Storage (GCS), launched in 1991, was based on Novell Netware 3. This service allowed clients to dial in and manage files through a primitive interface, or via FTP or Gopher, highlighting GEN's early recognition of the potential of cloud technologies.

This platform was designed to be text-based, and the backend was written in sh and Perl. We had push and pull delivery scheduling and terminal file access was handled by a custom NCP -> Zmodem converter. This service was mainly used for text files and some early data files like CSV at its outset.

GCS morphed many times through the following years as internet speeds increased and technologies evolved moving from Netware 3, to 4, to 5, then to FreeBSD


In 1998 we partnered with Nokia to provide a software solution for their new 9000 series of devices, linking our email service and GCS directly into the handsets. This enabled companies to share files from their offices with their representatives in the field, and allowed order taking to be pushed via GCS back to the clients fulfilment system.


In 2008, we phased out GCS in favour of our newer services like WebDAV and SFTP. We still operate cloud based storage solutions today, which are still popular with our clients for things like data-exchange, and off-site backups.

GENActive

At the end of 1999, the internet was firmly established as a thing, and the need for 'payments' was in its infancy. GEN Invested a considerable sum in the development of GENActive, an online payment platform which integrated with banks for transferring money between companies on the internet. A GENActive account holder would be able to pay for a product or service, and GEN handled the transaction whether that was a credit card (MasterCard/Visa), bank transfer or cheque (yes, it handled cheques). Unfortunately, PayPal and Nochex were already entering the market and quickly took up market share, but the platform continued to handle payments for clients until 2011 when GEN's internal CRM systems were replaced.

GENSupport

At the end of 2000, GEN Purchased an IBM hardware maintenance company (KCL) and then merged their hardware support services into a newly formed company GENSupport, which took on all the staff and contracts for maintenance. The thinking at the time was that hardware maintenance was indeed a separate channel and should be managed as such, whereas the core business was an ISP. 6 Years later however, it was clear that the separation was a mistake and internal disputes about whose 'fault' support call-outs where, between GEN (Connectivity and Systems) and GENSupport (Hardware) became a major distraction, and after several restructures the satellite business was merged back into the main company.

Original GENSupport Logo

GENSecurity

At the end of 2001, GEN acquired Delta Security, a national alarm installer, with a view to monopolising what was a small trend in very early building automation (automatic lights, heat etc), integrating that and alarm monitoring with GEN's connectivity solutions. The company ran for 9 years until 2010 at which point it was sold wholesale due mostly to its lack of profitability with the 'smart building' not really taking shape as predicted.

GEN are the FIRST Cloud Provider

Long before Amazon's AWS and Microsoft's Azure, GEN was offering cloud computing services in 2001, with our first platform based on VMWare's GSX Server, running on Pentium II and III servers, and from memory we had one Xeon Netserver, maybe an LH4. Our first virtualisation customer was a company called NExt who hosted a number of windows virtual machines.

GSX was a very early type 2 hypervisor, which was tragically slow and fraught with technical issues, but VMWare were quick to release their first ESX type 1 hypervisor later that year which was a huge step forward in both performance and reliability.

We remained in the VMWare ecosystem until 2024 when the sale of VMWare to broadcom necessitated a move to the KVM hypervisor.

The Future at GEN - With the Senior Partners

When we first started, everything was moving so fast that not a day went by without some new computer company launching with the very latest this or that, and we had to invest constantly to stay relevant. There was never a dull day, and our hardware turnover was massive.

We witnessed so many things, the collapse of DEC, the rise and fall of Sun, the failure of Prime, Alpha, ICL and of course the growth of Unix and then Linux as the number one platform. I remember having customers with paper tape readers, and magtape. We had one customer running an IBM series 1, and when it crashed you had to feed a box of paper cards into a reader to boot it - those were the days, when a hardware fault usually involved a small fire. Do you remember when Microsoft thought the 'Internet' would never catch on and launched MSN as the right way to do it.

The last 20 years have seen GEN evolve from an ISP to a full service IT company, offering a range of services from connectivity to cloud storage, web hosting, and security. We've made mistakes over the years investing in the wrong technology sometimes, but who didn't? and we've survived and grown stronger because of it. Staying as a Partnership has protected the firm from buyouts, takeovers and other threats that have taken so many of our industry partners and rivals.

We have continued to innovate and adapt to the changing landscape of technology, and we're proud to have been a part of the UK's IT industry for over 35 years. We believe things have certainly stabilised over the last decade, with connectivity and virtualisation becoming a mainstream service that we base other services on. AI is certainly an evolving landscape, and of course we're investing is that too, but you shouldn't believe all the crazy claims in the media.

The future is certainly bright, and we've been in this a long time.


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