One of the great features of the Internet is how easily data and other information can be shared among users. In fact, this was the original purpose of the Internet – to make sure that data could be shared by various military installations in the event of a nuclear war. Over time, universities “got online” and eventually average users—and here we are today.
Likewise, the navigation of the Web has been streamlined in such a way that information can be retrieved quickly and requires little installed software beyond a Web browser such as Internet Explorer, Safari or Firefox. However, the downside of the Internet is that this information is also available in such a way that it can be found and accessed by other users. So what do you do if you need to share information between selected users—much like the Internet’s original purpose?
Your Own Private Internet
A closed version of the Internet is an “intranet,” which is a private, or at least semi-private computer network. It relies on the basic Internet protocols (those unique addresses that every computer online has), as well as the same type of network connectivity between machines. But unlike a basic Local Area Network (LAN), an intranet doesn’t require that all the computers on this network have to be within the same room or building, thus making it ideal for small businesses that might not have all the users in the same place.
As with the Internet the network can rely on the public telecommunication system to connect distant computers together. The difference is that this semi-closed network is basically protected by firewalls or other encryption, making it like an exclusive club. Outsiders can try to access it, but without the right password or other protocol access is denied.
You can connect to an intranet through your existing connections, and possibly any outside computer. The downside to intranets that are accessible through the Internet is that they are susceptible to hackers, who can attempt to gain access to the entire network.
Thus the security for an intranet should be maintained at all times, especially if important data is housed within it. The ease in allowing information to be shared is too great and improved safeguards such as firewalls and encryption can help to deter hackers and prevent the loss of important information.
Additionally, unlike a small office LAN it also is about more than merely accessing another computer’s desktop or hard drives for file and print sharing. Intranets typically use a Web-styled browser, but also support other features such as FTP and e-mail for the sharing of information and communication with other users. This can allow users to share files without the need for these to be e-mailed back and forth.
Benefits of an Intranet
The main goal of an Intranet is to ease information flow, but limit access to the outside world. This is done to increase worker productivity. For a small business this can mean many things.
*Greater access for all employees, especially for a small- or medium-sized business that must rely on the quick sharing of information between multiple offices or locations. This provides faster and easier access to more accurate company information as well.
*Ease of use for employees, because existing applications such as Internet Explorer can be used to navigate the Intranet. This reduces the need to install specialized programs in many cases and requires little additional training of applications.
*Ease of shared data, reducing the need for printouts.
*Protection of sensitive material. As users log in to a closed network, data does not have to be sent out to users in different networks. Instead, the data is accessed by individuals within the company thus limiting the chances that an individual outside the company might access it.
*Updated information can be available to all users at the same time.