Intranet: What it is, How it works and how to set one up.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the prefix intra in the word “intranet” means within. Intranet is a network confined within a company, school or organization. For example, let’s say mywebsite.com is a website hosted by a web server connected to the internet. Anyone with internet access should be able to access it and use the services on it.
We can also have a website called myintranet.com to post events and access the company phonebook. myintranet.com is hosted on a web server located in one of their offices and is connected only to the companies LAN. Only people connected to the Company LAN will be able to access this site.
Both intranet and internet operate over a communication standard called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) that connects hosts to users over a network. Both internet and intranet use web pages to display information to users. They also both use web programming languages such as HTML, Java, XML and Flash to build web pages with text, video and sound.
There is also an extension of Intranet called extranet; extranets allow companies to share their information with business partners and clients from remote locations outside the company’s network.
Benefits of Running an Intranet
The main benefit of running an intranet is that it is cheap and reliable. Also, because most computers in a company are already equipped to connect to the internet, there is no need to purchase additional hardware for the end user. The only piece of equipment that would be purchased is a web server to host the intranet.
Also, the most widely used Web server software, Apache is freely available
There are several benefits of having an intranet in an organization but I’m only going to list a few.
- Improved workforce productivity: intranets help workers to locate and access their information quickly and use applications relevant to their roles. This in turn, increases an employee’s ability faster, more accurately and with confidence that they have the right information
- It also improves services provided to the users.
- Time: with intranets, information can be available to workers on a pull basis, meaning that employees can link to relevant information at a time that suits them.
- Cost effective: users can view information over the web rather than using phone lists, procedure manuals and requisition forms.
- Enhances collaboration: with information easily accessible by all authorised users, teamwork is available.
- Cross-platform compatibility: standard-compliant web browsers are available on Windows, Mac and UNIX.
Planning an Intranet
Every intranet requires an individual or a group of individuals to maintain it. These individuals are the people that would manage the intranet and they also would control how the intranet operates.
Once the intranet team in an organization is created, there are some questions that need to be answered to ascertain the task ahead. Some of the considerations are listed below.
- The primary audience of the intranet. That is, the “end users”.
- Goals of the intranet
- How the success of the intranet will be measured.
- What type of documents would be hosted and which corporate database would be accessed
- What web-based applications will be accessible from the intranet.
- The structure of the intranet and what would be on the homepage.
- Would everyone be allowed to publish or edit content on the intranet.
- Who will create editorial guidelines and maintain editorial consistency.
There are also technical considerations to think about such as
- Who will configure and maintain the web server hosting the intranet.
- Would the server and network be administered by in-house technology staff or would the job be contracted?
- What precautions would be in place (firewalls, security software) to limit access to the intranet?
- How much network bandwidth will the intranet require?
- Will it host streaming audio and video, graphics and photos?
- What CMS (Content management system) would be used to create and publish content?
After all these questions are answered, the team will come up with a budget to be presented to the executives in charge. In larger organizations, these would be the CTO (Chief Technical Officer) and/or the CIO (Chief Information Officer). Cost projections would definitely include the following
- Web servers.
- Web server administrators.
- Web developers and designers.
- Content management system.
- Application development.
- Security hardware and software
- Maintenance costs
The intranet can now be set up once the budget is approved.
Setting up an intranet.
A secure and reliable intranet requires:
- Web server
- Networked Computers
- Firewall hardware and software
- CMS (Content Management System)
The web server comprises of two things: Software and Hardware. The hardware you use for the web server depends on the intranet’s size, the content to be published and also the number of people accessing it at the same time. For example, if your intranet is text only and is only accessed by five people at a time, you don’t need a powerful machine as a server but if your site is hosting streaming video serving more than 1000 people, you would need a powerful machine as a dedicated server or even a cluster of servers.
In organizations where the intranet is a low-priority application, everything can be thrown on the same machine. But if the organization depends more heavily on the intranet for web-based business applications, its smart to employ backup or a networked server cluster that share responsibilities.
Also it is smart to host databases on more than one machine so that if one server goes down, the rest can still access the database.
Firewall hardware and software basically perform the same function: they are the “gatekeepers”.
They monitor all inbound and outbound traffic in the company’s network for suspicious activity. A firewall is required for basic security, and also it is needed in extranets which allow the use of remote login outside of the Corporate LAN.
For creating and managing content on the intranet, most companies and organizations use a CMS (Content management system). the CMS allows you to create standardized web content without knowledge of HTML or any other web programming language. The CMS can be hosted on the web server or on an application server.
Corporate intranets will take on increasing importance as more businesses turn to web-based applications to manage business systems such as SAP and PeopleSoft.
Companies are learning that on-demand web services are cheaper to maintain and easier to use than hosting software on their own systems.