The three main objectives of the GCOS (Global Climate Observing System) Reference Upper-Air Network (GRUAN) are to provide long-term high quality climate records of vertical profiles of selected Essential Climate Variables (ECVs), to constrain and calibrate data from more spatially comprehensive global networks, and to fully characterize the properties of the atmospheric column. In the five years since the first GRUAN implementation and coordination meeting and the publication of a BAMS article (Seidel et al., 2009), GRUAN has matured to become a functioning network that provides reference-quality observations to a community of users. This article describes the achievements within GRUAN over the past five years towards making reference-quality observations of upper-air ECVs. Milestones in the evolution of GRUAN are emphasized, including development of rigorous criteria for site certification and assessment, the formal certification of the first GRUAN sites, salient aspects of the GRUAN Manual and Guide to Operations, public availability of GRUAN’s first data product, outcomes of a network expansion workshop, and key results of scientific studies designed to provide a sound scientific foundation for GRUAN operations. Two defining attributes of GRUAN are (1) that every measurement is accompanied by a traceable estimate of the measurement uncertainty and (2) that data quality and continuity are maximized because network changes are minimized and managed. This article summarizes how these imperatives are being achieved for existing and planned data products and provides an outlook for the future, including expected new data streams, network expansion, and critical needs for the ongoing success of GRUAN.