Organizations will use an intranet to improve secure communication between authorized users. This means that, in order to access an intranet, the user must have the proper credentials and connect to the organization LAN. For remote access, members may use a virtual private network (VPN).
Intranet vs. Internet vs. Extranet: What’s the Difference?
- The internet is a global network of computers used to exchange vast amounts of data and information. The internet is available to anyone with a connection.
- An intranet is similar to an internet but its use is restricted to authorized users and usually contains less content than the entire internet.
- Distinct from both of these is an extranet, a private network that authorized third-party users can access. Extranets allows companies to exchange information with other businesses, vendors or clients in a secure way online.
How Does an Intranet Work?
An intranet is comprised of several key components:
- Web server
- Local-area network (LAN) or wide-area network (WAN)
- Firewall (optional, but highly recommended)
- CMS/application software
A web server hosts the services the intranet provides including mail services, databases, a content managing system (CMS) and more.
How Are Intranets Used?
Using a CMS is a popular choice for creating, publishing and managing the intranet’s content, since it allows users to manage content even with little or no technical knowledge.
Security-wise, setting up a firewall is essential to protect an intranet. A firewall stands between the internet and the intranet, thereby acting as a filter for all incoming and outgoing traffic to protect the intranet from potential hackers and malicious attacks.
What Are the Differences Between Intranet, Internet and Extranet?
The internet is a global network of computers used to exchange vast amounts of data and information. It comprises a wide variety of networks: public, private, government owned, academic and more, all interconnected. The internet offers many applications and services to the user, including e-mail, social media applications, online gaming, streaming and multimedia.
Sounds similar to intranet, doesn’t it? The main difference between internet and intranet, is that the former is available to anyone, while the latter, as mentioned earlier, is restricted to members.
Distinct from both of these is an extranet, a private network that authorized third-party users can access. Extranets allows companies to exchange information with other businesses, vendors or clients in a secure way online.
On-Premises Intranet vs. Cloud Intranet
Although intranets have traditionally been self-hosted, a new option has been made available with the boom of cloud computing: cloud intranets.
A self-hosted intranet requires that the organization host the system in their own data center. Data centers aren’t cheap. Not only do you need to purchase expensive hardware, you also need to build or purchase the software, not to mention deploy, test and maintain that software.
With a cloud intranet, all the organization has to do is pay a cloud-based intranet provider, such as Claromentis or Unily, and use the intranet the provider hosts and maintains. Although you avoid the cost and hassle of building and maintaining your own data center, you become dependent on your provider.
Which option is better? As with everything in computer science, it depends on your needs.
Advantages of an Intranet
Ease of Centralization
Organizations have thousands of files, which need to be readily available for the users to locate, read or modify. Intranets centralize all of this data and ensure users have access to everything they need. This ready access to files, paired with a powerful search function, leads to a significant increase in productivity among users.
Ease of Communication
Intranets can also have added social networking features that allow organization members to interact, communicate and collaborate easily, which encourages a healthy workplace culture.
Ease of Access
The intranet can be accessed at any time and, provided you know how to use a VPN, from anywhere.
Disadvantages of an Intranet
Difficulty of Implementation
Implementing a custom intranet (as opposed to purchasing intranet services hosted by a third party) requires considerable technical knowledge: software, hardware, networking and communication, and DevOps. In order to implement an organization-wide intranet, the expertise of one or more engineers proficient in these fields will be necessary.
Complexity for Users
Intranets can grow to such lengths as to make it quite difficult for the rookie user to navigate them. A bad intranet design can also contribute to user frustration and disengagement. In such cases, an onboarding process for new users will be of great help.
Behind every great intranet is a great intranet management strategy.
Due to the sheer amount of information that an intranet holds, information management is crucial to avoid chaos spreading across the organization. This includes having a carefully planned content strategy, a proper intranet page layout with logical flow of information and a good UX design, among other things.
User management, user onboarding and support, and analytics are other key tasks in intranet management.
Although intranets are private networks, they are nevertheless vulnerable to both internal and external security threats. External threats can include viruses, worms and other types of malware. Internal threats can include weak passwords, unencrypted data and incorrect access control policies.
Intranet Example Applications
For most private organizations, an intranet is a must. From startups to nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies, the benefits of having a private network far outweigh the risks. For example, universities often choose to build their own intranet. The sheer size of a university, including thousands of students, professors and degree programs, makes having a centralized hub a necessity. Here are a few other applications:
- Enterprise intranet for secure business transactions and information sharing across a company
- Educational intranet for private interactions between students, educators and parents (if applicable)
- Public sector intranet for secure information sharing within federal, state and local government bodies
- HR intranet to maintain employee privacy and information within an organization