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An intranet is a private network contained within an enterprise that is used to securely share company information and computing resources among employees. An intranet can also be used to facilitate working in groups and teleconferences.

Intranets increase communication within an organization by allowing employees to easily access important information, links, applications and forms as well as databases that can provide company records. Security can also be increased within the intranet by establishing a database that maintains all of the usernames of people who are allowed access to the network.

Uses of the intranet

Potential uses of an intranet include:

  • Streamlining everyday activities by making repeated tasks more feasible.
  • Centralizing and managing important information and company data in a single database.
  • Making collaboration easier since information can be shared across the entire network.
  • Providing personalized content to employees based on their role within the company.
  • Improving internal communication by making employee directories, company news and organization charts readily available.
  • Providing fast and easy access to information about company policies, benefits and updates.

How the intranet works

A secure and reliable intranet requires a web server that is responsible for managing all requests for files hosted on the server, finding the requested file and delivering it to the appropriate computer. A content management system (CMS) should also be set up to control the creation, publication and management of content on the intranet.

An intranet may also consist of many interlinked local area networks (LANs) as well as leased lines in the wide area network (WAN). It uses TCP/IP, HTTP, and other Internet protocols (IP). Typically, an intranet includes connections through one or more gateway computers to the outside Internet.

An employee who wants to access the intranet must have a special network password and be connected to the LAN. However, an employee working remotely can gain access to the intranet through a virtual private network (VPN). The VPN allows users who are not actually connected to the required LAN to sign into the intranet and access all the same information and functions that would be available had they been connected to the LAN.

Firewall software is essential to the security of an organization's intranet; it stands between the outside Internet and the private intranet. The firewall will monitor all incoming and outgoing data packets to confirm they do not contain unauthorized or suspicious requests, ensuring malware and other malicious attacks do not leak into the intranet. When a segment of an intranet is made accessible to customers, partners, suppliers, or others outside the company, that segment becomes part of an extranet. The firewall is especially important for intranet networks that include extranet extensions.

The intranet generally looks like a private version of the Internet. With tunneling, companies can send private messages through the public network while using special encryption/decryption and other security safeguards to connect one part of their intranet to another.

Benefits and challenges of the intranet

Some potential benefits of using an intranet include:

  • Improved communication, information sharing and collaboration within a business.
  • An increased return on investment (ROI) due to the low implementation and operating costs.
  • The ability for human resources to manage employee records and for customer service representatives to track help requests.
  • The use of the intranet as a testing environment for new ideas before they are implemented on the company's Internet webpage.
  • An improved corporate culture within a business through the use of a social intranet that is built around people and focused on enabling widespread participation and interaction.

Some challenges faced when using an intranet include:

  • A lack of intranet users and therefore a lack of the content, communications and documents that are necessary to make the intranet beneficial.
  • A loss of interest amongst users after the initial excitement and novelty of the intranet has worn off, also resulting in a lack of content.
  • Limited user support due to the high cost of adding a support team to the payroll. As a result, when the inevitable software bugs or other issues arise, there is no one to resolve the problems.
  • Continuous examinations and maintenance checks are required to ensure the network is running properly and does not become outdated with old and irrelevant content.
  • A lack of proper ownership or ownership being distributed amongst various departments. This complicates the network and makes it difficult to place responsibility in one place.

Differences between the Internet and intranet

The biggest difference between the Internet and intranet is that the Internet can be accessed by anyone from anywhere, whereas the intranet can only be accessed by a specific group of people who possess an authenticated login and are connected to the required LAN or VPN. Beyond that, there are several more simple distinctions, such as:

  • The Internet works on a public network while the intranet works on a private network.
  • The public Internet is not as safe as the private intranet.
  • The Internet can have unlimited users while the intranet has a limited amount.
  • Information on the Internet is unlimited and available to anyone while information on an intranet is limited and only available to users with authorized access to the intranet network.
This was last updated in July 2019

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