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ARCNET (also CamelCased as ARCnet, an acronym from Attached Resource Computer NETwork) is a local area network (LAN) protocol, similar in purpose to Ethernet or Token Ring. ARCNET was the first widely available networking system for microcomputers and became popular in the 1980s for office automation tasks. It has since gained a following in the embedded systems market, where certain features of the protocol are especially useful.



ARCNET was developed by principal development engineer John Murphy at Datapoint Corporation in 1976 and announced in 1977.[1] It was the first loosely-coupled LAN-based clustering solution, making no assumptions about the type of computers that would be connected. This was in contrast to contemporary larger and more expensive computer systems such as DECnet or SNA, where a homogeneous group of similar or proprietary computers were connected as a cluster.

The token-passing bus protocol of that I/O device-sharing network was subsequently applied to allowing processing nodes to communicate with each other for file-serving and computing scalability purposes. An application could be developed in DATABUS, Datapoint's proprietary COBOL-like language and deployed on a single computer with dumb terminals. When the number of users outgrew the capacity of the original computer, additional 'compute' resource computers could be attached via ARCNET, running the same applications and accessing the same data. If more storage was needed, additional disk resource computers could also be attached. This incremental approach broke new ground and by the end of the 1970s (before the first cassette-based IBM PC was announced in 1981) over ten thousand ARCnet LAN installations were in commercial use around the world, and Datapoint had become a Fortune 500 company. As microcomputers took over the industry, well-proven and reliable ARCNET was also offered as an inexpensive LAN for these machines.

ARCNET remained proprietary until the early-to-mid 1980s. This did not cause concern at the time, as most network architectures were proprietary. The move to non-proprietary, open systems began as a response to the dominance of International Business Machines (IBM) and its Systems Network Architecture (SNA). In 1979, the Open Systems Interconnection Reference Model (OSI Model) was published. Then, in 1980, Digital, Intel and Xerox (the DIX consortium) published an open standard for Ethernet that was soon adopted as the basis of standardization by the IEEE and the ISO. IBM responded by proposing Token Ring as an alternative to Ethernet but kept such tight control over standardization that competitors were wary of using it. ARCNET was less expensive than either, more reliable, more flexible, and by the late 1980s it had a market share about equal to that of Ethernet.

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