Welcome to Extranet Help - the purpose of this mini-site is to help you understand what an extranet is compared to the internet and intranet, respectively.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us from the link above.
Extranets are classified as one of “those” words that just sound good on paper. You could use it in a sentence, and you’d sound sophisticated- maybe even intelligent. So how do you define an extranet? Often, an extranet is a combination of the internet with a little intranet thrown in. But before we begin throwing every “-net” word at you we can muster, let’s start at the very beginning - with the very close cousin of the extranet deemed the intranet.
Intranets were created to save companies and organizations literally millions of dollars each year through network efficiency, productivity, and mobility. You can think of an intranet as sort of a “personal internet,” in which all of the organization’s staff has access to a common source of information.
Note that in the above example, the intranet is shielded from the view of the internet. All computers on the network will appear to be using a single IP address- the network address. This is done through network address translation, or NAT. Obviously, there is a lot of security benefit to be had with intranets, as this stealth technology can shield computers from outside attack.
Intranets save organizations money through efficient design. If a company has paperwork, statistics, logs, and other data that is being used by the majority of employees, why not put it all in one place? This way, employees could access resources from any computer on the network- which also decreases printing costs.
Extranets come into the picture because we’d like to extend this efficiency to the outside world. If you have a policy handbook, for example, you can make it accessible via the internet for all to access. In this case, we would need to make use of the extranet.
The first distinction between an intranet and extranet is of course its availability. The secured intranet will not grant access to just anyone- you must have the proper credentials to access content. Extranets operate on a much different rule set- the data is open to the outside world (although some restrictions could be put in place).
As the access rights are different, so are the users we target with each design. An intranet will target managers, sales representatives, managerial departments, executives, and other employees within an organization. Extranets instead target privileged customers, suppliers, contractors, partners, and other possible end users.
So what’s more important: the intranet or extranet? Depending on how you define the extranet, usually the intranet comes first. The intranet is essentially a system that allows the collaboration of data- one of the biggest efficiency-booster available. And while extranets can serve to increase efficiency as well, it is usually on a lesser scale. But as you’ll see, the fine line defining an extranet is becoming increasingly blurry- and thus the distinction is following the same fate.
An extranet is actually a fairly vague term. Technically, you could call any webpage that has a “Member’s only” section an extranet. In this sense, you’ve already had experience with extranets, and you didn’t even know it! But in a more practical sense, extranets are used share information in a convenient form.
Some of the more beneficial uses an extranet serves to an organization comes via feedback. Surveys, feedback forms, FAQs, statistical data, and other forms of improving an organization’s infrastructure are popular among extranets. Microsoft is perhaps king of the feedback game, as you’ll more often than not see hundreds of surveys in your lifetime- all by simply browsing the Microsoft knowledge base.
It might not be any more exciting than feedback, but policies, guidelines, and agreement notices make an appearance in every capable extranet. These different types of agreements and policies often ensure that customers or prospective customers know how their information is being dealt with, as well as what they can expect from your organization. If these guidelines aren’t outlined in a clear manner, an organization may be liable for certain legal technicalities. And as you’ll find, these aren’t always as inexpensive as you’d like.
Lastly, many extranets serve the purpose of showing demos and examples. If your organization is selling any kind of product, there will likely need to be a demo or pricing guide. Many companies that specialize in creating programs, scripts, web applications, and other services won’t be taken seriously unless they have demos waiting for their customers. Likewise, customers would be much less interested in paying for something that they aren’t sure how much of their wallet they’ll need to give up.
Intranets, extranets, and internet: you can never have too many “-net” these days. As organizations are becoming more and more dependent upon intranets and extranets, the need for intranet and extranet knowledgeable personnel is also increasing. And when you see that some companies such as Cisco or Xerox have literally cut millions out of their budget each year as a direct result of these technologies, who can blame them?