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Intranet Overview

An intranet is a software platform for linking people and information over computer networks that:
  • is based on open Internet standards;
  • is interoperable across platforms, databases, and legacy systems;
  • offers security, reliability, and scalability;
  • is easy to implement, use, and manage.

An intranet is a TCP/IP network inside a company that links people and information in a way that makes information more accessible, people more productive, and access to all computing resources more seamless.

An intranet takes advantage of the open standards and protocols that have recently emerged from the Internet. These open standards make possible applications and services like email, groupware, information management and secure database access, that are as powerful, and in some cases more powerful, than traditional proprietary systems.

Intranets uses standard Internet technologies to create an environment for information sharing and applications, implemented on an "Open" network-based platform. Applications can be authored once and adapted to other operating environments and hardware platforms as required;

Because an intranet is built on these open standards, users gain the benefits of cross-platform and cross-database support, flexibility, and vendor independence. Companies also gain the ability to access the innovations and products created by an entire industry, not just a single vendor.


Intranet Components

Corporations and Application Developers can leverage the services and functions of the Internet as part of their overall Application Framework.

Intranets are built from the open systems and protocols of the Internet. All services built on open Internet standards, operate equally well over an intranet and the internet, with no gateways, data conversion, or application changes required.

An intranet based application framework typically offers equivalent or better functionality than proprietary alternatives like Lotus Notes and Microsoft BackOffice, while costing much less. Hybred approaches are common and can integrate the "Best of Both Worlds" into a seamless framework.

Intranets adapt perfectly to highly heterogeneous environments populated by many client and server operating environments, databases, and legacy systems. Client and Server side Intranet software is available on Windows 3.1, 95, and NT, as well as OS/2, Unix and Macintosh platforms, so you can run your intranet on virtually any combination of hardware and operating systems you choose.

Internet based products can be used as an interface to a wide variety of applications and may take advantage of any relational database system, including SQL based systems like Informix, Microsoft, Oracle, Interbase and Sybase, as well as ODBC Databases such as Dbase, Paradox, FoxPro and Access. Additionally, third-party solutions provide excellent backward compatibility and migration tools.


An Intranet as a Development Platform

The Internet has created an open, standards-based network development platform which can now play a key role in any application framework. Thousands of third-party commercial software developers are creating software products that are targeted to run on the Internet ~ Intranet platform.

Companies worldwide are moving forward with intranet systems as applications can typically be developed and deployed more easily in the intranet environment.

Unlike monolithic proprietary systems such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Back Office or Exchange, Intranet Browsers and Servers can form a flexible set of components and can be deployed in any way you want throughout your network. You can run different services from different machines and scale any service without incurring incremental management burdens.

Training costs are slashed through use of an industry-standard user interface. Industry standard APIs (Application Programming Interface) along with common scripting and programming languages reduce development time. You may develop an application once and it's available to everyone.

Cross-Platform Database connectivity allows developers to create SQL and ODBC connections to databases from CA/Ingres, Informix, Microsoft, Oracle and Sybase, along with dozens of other databases, from desktop to mainframe.

Additionally, administrators can manage the server environment along with the distribution and maintenance of software using a simple HTML-based interface from any remote site.


Intranet Services

An intranet model can be described in terms of services. These services are provided by the intranet's software environment - which, since intranet software runs across all client and server operating systems and hardware platforms, results in a common environment that spans even the most heterogeneous networks.

An intranet's services provide users with capabilities like looking up information, sending and receiving email, and searching directories. These services also allow custom and third-party applications, such as sales automation systems, to take advantage of the Intranet's capabilities for linking remote offices. An intranet's services can also make life easier for IT managers, since everything can be centrally managed, and fully integrated.

    Two basic types of services make up an intranet:

      User Services, which provide basic resources and applications for end users including: Information Publishing, Navigation, Communications and Application access.

      Network Services, which help tie together and run the overall network including: Directory, Security, Management and Replication.


User Services

Information Publishing

An intranet can provide simple, network-wide content publishing and management, ensuring that everyone has the latest information from anywhere on the network. You can publish your latest product information locally, and the information is instantly available globally, to anyone with access rights.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) documents can be created using intuitive "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) and drag-and-drop interfaces. Legacy document formats such as word processing documents and spreadsheets can also be published. Commercial formats supported include Adobe PDF, Microsoft RTF, Microsoft Word, and will also support indexing and cataloging of other document formats.

With hyperlinks, multimedia, and embedded objects, rich and interactive online content can be integrated and personalized. Documents can be indexed and organized as they are published, and can be managed from the desktop, centrally in one location. The result is a seamless environment for access to all information throughout your company.


An intranet makes it easy to find any piece of information or resource located on the network. Users can execute a single query that results in an organized list of all matching information across all servers. This allows a manager to type in a simple request that returns all internal and external information related to a particular question.

Browsing Hierarchies are easily created and agent services can watch for new information or monitor existing resources for changes. Consequently, all users have comprehensive and personalized access to all important information across both their internal network and the Internet.

Communication and Groupware

Internet standards now allow open email and groupware capabilities to be as powerful and functional as traditional proprietary alternatives, and fully integrated across an intranet.

Richly formatted email and discussion groups incorporating audio and video plus network calendaring and scheduling together provide for a seamless environment that spans all modes of electronic communication.

Users can look up email addresses and phone numbers by using a simple address book interface tied into an open directory service across the Internet.

For example, a salesperson can look up a customer's current status in an internal customer-tracking discussion group, then look up the customer's email address over the Internet and send the customer an email message.

Database and legacy application access.

An intranet excels at tying people into databases and legacy applications with a consistent, easy-to-use interface, providing one-stop application access.

Existing databases and legacy applications can be accessed from a single interface, providing seamless access to databases and applications. Application access can be built on top of existing databases and business processes, enabling easy-to-use workflow applications to be quickly implemented.

This means an inventory application could receive orders from any employee on the network, tie into both internal and supplier databases, and place orders and report delivery dates automatically.


Network Related Services

Directory Services - Information About People and Resources on the Network.

Directory Services allow centralized, replicated, secure management of User and Resource Information across the entire enterprise.

Directory servers track and manage information about people, access control, server configuration, and application-specific resources. Administrators can centrally manage user access control and server configuration parameters across the entire enterprise. Applications can manage application-specific information, including legacy directories such as those from proprietary mainframe email systems. Directory information can be replicated across the entire enterprise, enabling features such as universal single login.

Security groups, and databases are all subject to access control. This is managed centrally, with information about specific resources and about user privileges linked to those resources managed and distributed through the intranet's directory service.

This means when a new employee joins a company, the administrator is able to enter the access privileges and personal information once, with the information available for any user or server on the network, across all applications and platforms.

Email and real-time Communications

Corporations can issue and manage a security key infrastructure to give their employees the ability to conduct company business securely across the network.

For example, a product development team on a highly confidential project can grant different access rights to core team members, other internal associates, and external partners, enabling information access on a need to know basis.

Replication - Transparently spreading data across the network.

Replication maximizes the efficiency of the network by allowing data such as Web content, discussion group messages, directories, and database tables to be distributed across an intranet. This allows a nationwide corporation to replicate summary reports and typical database query results to local branch offices, reducing network traffic and improving speed for end users.

Replication also makes it easy to work with applications, and discussion groups offline in a way that allows the user to continue to make changes and updates; when the user goes back online, all the changes are properly reconciled.

Some relational databases provide replication services at the database level for particular database applications.

Management Services

An intranet can provide centralized administration and management, through a common, integrated, HTML-based management interface that allows all servers and resources to be managed securely from anywhere on the intranet.

Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) provides integration with common network management environments such as those from CA, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun.

For example, an administrator at headquarters can administer all the servers and install new applications for branch offices, through a single interface, with changes instantly updated across the Net.

Researchers can use an intranet to access product development information, debate topics in dedicated discussion areas and share experiences and project results with colleagues around the world.

Intranet Based Applications

The old desktop-centric model, dominated by proprietary static non-networked applications is changing. Companies are discovering that basing their business computing environments on the network, and building an application framework that includes Intranet based access, provide solutions that are typically easier and more powerful for users, administrators, and application developers, while costing less.

    As a result, the network-based Intranet Application Framework :
    • Provides cross-platform interoperablity at the network level, directly addressing the cost and problems associated with managing multiple incompatible systems.
    • Is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, unlike most "paradigm shifts," which require you to replace all your existing systems, databases, and applications.
    • Means you can continue to use your existing infrastructure including desktop computers, servers, mainframes, databases, applications, operating systems and networks.
    • Allows developers to author once and run anywhere, even across both client and server platforms, rather than repeatedly porting and customizing applications for different proprietary platforms.
    • Means user applications and updates can be deployed and managed centrally, from the server, rather than requiring costly updates to static, individual laptop and desktop systems.
    • Has a low overall cost of implementation and ownership, including software, custom applications, hardware, training, and support.
    • Is based on open standards, providing flexibility, so companies can select individual components from multiple vendors, today and in the future.
    • Is already here and is changing the way companies do business.


Intranet Application Examples

A wide range of applications run in an intranet environment. Some applications flow out of an intranet's services, others are custom developed by each enterprise, and still others are provided by commercial software vendors.

Native Intranet Applications

The user and network services provided by an intranet, as described above, directly translate into native applications that are provided in the intranet environment. These native applications include the following:

  • Email groupware and team collaboration,

  • Real-time audio and video communication,
  • Information publishing and sharing,
  • Navigation and full-text indexing and
  • Searching Directories of People and Resources.

Custom Intranet Applications

A primary benefit of an intranet is that enterprises can now easily build custom applications that can be immediately accessed by users anywhere on the intranet, on any platform. Because both development and deployment are much faster, the cost savings over the old desktop-centric models are significant. Further, users do not need extensive training. The applications run in the familiar Navigator interface, and users already know the rules - "point and click!"

Each company typically has hundreds of other application needs, large and small, many of which have never been addressable because previously there was no universal way for individual employees to instantly access any information resource or application from the desktop, and there was no way to develop and deploy new applications rapidly and universally.

Companies running intranets are finding that a combination of native, custom, and commercial applications built on an intranet environment address these needs head on. These applications address pressing business needs, such as the following examples:

  • The sales force needs up-to-date information about your products and services, and it needs a system that allows orders to be taken and tracked from the road.
  • Members of a project team may be distributed across territories and time zones.  There needs to be a universal way for each project team to provide information and documentation on its efforts and results so they can work together more efficiently..
  • The technical support staff needs a way to track customers and their problems, ensuring successful resolution of each reported problem and providing a way for customers to "help themselves" resolve basic problems.
  • A company needs one email system that spans every desktop and every person. Many large companies are running five or more, proprietary legacy email systems, and have huge compatibility and interoperability problems. For example, each email system has its own proprietary directory, and attachments don't transmit seamlessly across email systems, creating islands of users instead of seamless connectivity.
  • New employees need a way to find information on company procedures, organization, and benefits as soon as they come onboard.
  • The marketing staff needs a way to access, through a consistent interface from any desktop, all the customer and market research databases the company maintains.

The above are just a few of the applications most companies need that a intranet can provide.

Research and Product Development - Modern product development demands tight coordination between team members in widely separated regions and time zones. An intranet allows product teams to be pulled together seamlessly across the enterprise network.

Your company may also develop Intranet-based applications to streamline internal processes such as project management and procurement, or newsgroups so that teams can discuss projects and collaborate via the Web.

These services may help you cut down on project management overhead and let project leaders focus more on technical problems than on administrative issues.

As a result, you can quickly assemble virtual workgroups to tackle a project regardless of the location of employees. Over time you should able to do a lot more with internal web than with any dedicated groupware product because of its open architecture.

Sales and marketing applications. Sales and marketing teams need instant access to the latest product, pricing, and competitive information. The intranet breaks down the barriers between people and the information they need.

Multimedia Access. By publishing multimedia files on the intranet, you could be saving thousands of dollars previously incurred for printing, duplication and distribution of your marketing campaign materials among all sales representatives, etc.

Worldwide sales material distribution - you can use an intranet to distribute sales information; in the past, headquarters would have presentations or other documents duplicated and sent via a courier to up to salespeople worldwide. Also of interest is developing applications that allow salespeople to use a browser via a local Hard Disk or CD-ROM when they are offline.

You can measure the cost savings of not having to duplicate material every month, but that's not as important as having all the information centralized in one place. People can search for what they need and get results immediately.

Entire sales cycle support - build a dynamic sales and marketing intranet. the system can map out each step of the sales cycle with links to sales, support and other resources.

Human Resources Applications - Because virtually every employee of a company has access to an intranet from his or her desktop or laptop, it's easy to provide everyone with instant access to information and applications across a wide range of human resources-related needs.

Company Information - An intranet can provide your clients and employees access to information on seminars, company announcements, building facilities, the employee directory, commuting options, benefits, child care options, how to place purchase orders, how to get business cards, safety equipment, and more. A user interface that gives people access to information without having to worry whether it runs on their workstation is a tremendous benefit.

Financial Applications - The ability to link disparate databases and information sources across the enterprise and to run custom dynamic applications makes an intranet an ideal environment for a broad range of both universally accessible and access-controlled financial applications.

Order Procurement - Intranet Applications can let company employees order office supplies right from their desktops by using a Web interface to an internal database. From your desktop you can see whether the stockroom has what you need, order a fully configured personal computer, and have it delivered to your office, or pick up supplies from a drag-and-drop based interface in an office supply catalog.

Once a company is running an intranet internally, it's easy to extend services and applications out onto the Internet, using access control to grant privileges to selected outside users or to the entire world, and not requiring any content or application components to be modified.

Save time and money by providing timely data, to Customers, Suppliers and distributors. It gives an opportunity to provide a valuable service to your partners, and it's relatively inexpensive.

Customer Support - You can now provide your customers with proprietary technical bulletins via an extended intranet solution. If you have customers and suppliers all over the world, or just want to eliminate processing paper, asked yourself, what is the best platform for deploying information to your customers and suppliers worldwide? Do you want to lock your customers into a proprietary system, or would you rather have something that takes advantage of off-the-shelf software and industry standards?


Open messaging supports industry standard Internet email standards and protocols. Interoperability with proprietary email systems is automatic, since all proprietary email systems either have or are providing gateways for open Internet standards such as SMTP. There are also third-party products that help with interoperability, for example, (cc:Mail), Retix (Notes), and Innosoft (DEC, IBM, HP). ]


An intranet's security services provide ways for resources to be protected against unauthorized users, for communication to be encrypted and authenticated, and for the integrity of information to be verified. Firewalls are one primary method of keeping users where they should be.


Commercial Intranet Applications

Virtually every commercial software developer is creating new applications, or retrofitting existing applications, to run in the Internet and Intranet environments. Examples include sales force automation, financial systems, personal productivity applications, financial trading floor systems, procurement and business-to-business commerce applications, document management systems as well as customer support and help desk applications.


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©Micromax Information Services Ltd. 1999