What is an Intranet?

Intranet Portals

Broadly speaking, there are two crucial aspects of a company’s internet presence. The most obvious is that which faces the public–the website, associated email addresses, etc. But just as vital is a company’s private network infrastructure. Often, this infrastructure is made available via a so-called intranet.

Just as the internet connects systems together across the globe, an intranet integrates services within an organization. Most services are only of interest to the organization itself. As such, they are often not made available to the internet at large. Access may be limited to a physical location, or a gateway may permit usage from other locations.

Intranets vary widely in form. Sometimes their services can be accessed globally, usually by logging in from the main organizational website. Other instances place access behind a firewall, a computer system dedicated to restricting access to network services. In these instances, it may be necessary to reach the intranet via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This technology restructures network packets such that they appear to originate within the network, thus allowing less restricted access.

Many companies host services that are not of interest to the general public. Applications for managing time, materials and other company assets are not useful for outsiders, but are crucial for the daily operations of a business. Making these components accessible via the company intranet enables workers to use them from a variety of computers, devices and locations.

Additionally, many highly secure companies may wish to heavily restrict access to certain services. Making mail, instant messaging and other commonly externally reachable services available only on the intranet is an easy means of preventing employees from accessing them from less secure locations. While this is not a total security solution, it can effectively prevent workers from accessing and saving email on unsecured remote systems.

Security is not the only benefit of an intranet. As technology becomes increasingly mobile, migrating company solutions from individual programs to hosted web applications is an excellent means of increasing productivity and reducing costs across the board. Hosting such applications on a company’s intranet helps employees do their jobs whether they are behind their desks, in the field with a laptop or simply checking in from their phones.

Setting up an intranet requires several steps in addition to establishing a normal web presence. First, organizations must decide what sorts of services they wish to host on their private intranet. Project management, timekeeping and accounting are just some examples of processes which might benefit from an intranet-hosted application.

Next, a Local Area Network (LAN) must be established for hosting these services. This is a daunting process for which a variety of consulting companies are available. The size and requirements of an organization’s LAN will depend on a number of factors, and there is no easy means to summarize what is required.

Finally, a firewall and remote internet connection is usually helpful. While not strictly required for an intranet installation, connecting it to the internet in a fast and secure manner is necessary for remote access.

By migrating business processes to applications hosted on an intranet, organizations and companies of any size can increase productivity while cutting costs. While the process is not a simple one, many consultants and firms are available to help establish secure and fast intranets for any circumstances.

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