From the Inside Out: How Intranet Adds Value

New Hampshire Town and City magazine spoke with Jason Levine, LGC's Senior Application Developer, about the Intranet. Here is his primer:

T&C: Most of us are familiar with the Internet, but what is an Intranet?

JL: An Intranet is a private version of the Internet, usually found on a company's internal network. There are thousands of Intranets in the world, though most of them you will never see or have access to, since they are restricted to company employees. Like the Internet, an Intranet can host websites, transfer files, stream video and audio, and generally do most things the Internet can do, but for a smaller, controlled audience.

T&C: How is the Intranet different from the Internet and has it been around and used as long?

JL: The real difference between the Internet and an Intranet is that the Internet is publicly accessible and is a web of many networks, while an Intranet is private and is usually on one or several networks which are not connected to other networks around the globe. Technically, Intranets predate the Internet, since the predecessor to the Internet, a network called ARPANET, was a military research network accessible only to military staff and academic researchers. Since it was private, it was an Intranet.

T&C: Who uses Intranet? Why?

JL: Many companies have an Intranet because it allows for an internal sharing of information that the company does not want to make publicly available on the Internet. The Intranet increases communication within a company, which also increases productivity and collaboration. Intranets are also often used to promote corporate culture by becoming a single point of communication for staff. Beyond companies, academic institutions typically have Intranets where researchers and students can communicate on a private network. Government agencies use Intranets to allow staff to collaborate without risking the release of protected information.

T&C: What are the advantages of having an Intranet in an organization? How does it help a town or school district fulfill its mission?

JL: Basically, an Intranet increases communication, collaboration, and productivity within an organization. It also assists in promoting organizational culture. An Intranet can benefit a town or school district by providing a method for town or school employees to communicate in a central location, eliminating scheduling conflicts and saving the time needed to meet face-to-face. It can also allow staff to collaborate on projects that shouldn't be accessible to everyone, such as teachers working together on creating test answers for students.

T&C: How is an Intranet set up? What's needed to establish one?

JL: Essentially, to set up an Intranet, an organization needs a private network consisting of server and client computers. Most organizations already have this, since they are using this same network to connect desktop or laptop computers to server computers that handle tasks like email, printer management, and file storage. If a company wants to use its Intranet to host an internal website, a server computer on their private network must be set up as a web server.

T&C: Is setting up an Intranet expensive? What does it cost? What is the cost-benefit ratio?

JL: The cost of building a private organizational computer network depends on the size and complexity of the organization. Private Intranets can be small enough to cover the computer network in one building or large enough to span dozens of company locations across the globe. These private computer networks are built for purposes beyond just hosting an Intranet, however, and once they are built, hosting an Intranet is very cost-effective. Setting up a server computer to act as a web server can be done with free, open source software such as the Apache HTTP server, which is used to run the majority of public websites on the Internet. If an organization's network is based on Windows software, the server operating systems that they already license include Microsoft's web server platform, Internet Information Services (IIS). Additional software may be purchased to expand the capabilities of an organization's Intranet site, but they are not necessary.

The cost-benefit ratio can be substantial because setting up an Intranet site costs very little if the organization already has a private computer network. But the benefits in collaboration and productivity can be significant. Typically the most significant hurdle for a small organization in setting up an Intranet site is having staff resources to develop an internal website and maintain it. Some companies, such as Google, have begun to offer cloud-based Intranet tools like Google Apps, which make it easier for a small organization to build and maintain an Intranet that is hosted by Google.