Everyone has heard of the internet. In fact, we all use it nearly every day, and even our cell phones can be used to access content from the internet on a daily or hourly basis. While virtually everyone understands what the internet is, most of us get confused or wonder if someone needs to learn how to spell properly when we see the words “intranet” or “extranet.”

What is an Intranet?

Wikipedia describes an intranet as “a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol technology to securely share any part of an organization’s information and network operating system within that organization.” The key words here are “securely” and “within that organization.” This means that only members of the organization have access to that particular set of electronic files.

The concept of intranets first appeared a few years after the public introduction of the internet and the World Wide Web in the early 1990s.  They are in wide use today, providing a familiar environment for employees and executives to access company information.  Security is usually managed through the network, requiring some form of local authentication.  Information is often proprietary and strictly pertinent to the company.  Perhaps the most widely known intranet software solution is Microsoft SharePoint*.

What is an Extranet?

While an extranet has many similarities to an intranet, an extranet performs a very different function. The Wikipedia entry for an extranet describes it as “a computer network that allows controlled access from the outside for specific business or educational purposes… an extranet is similar to a DMZ in that it provides access to needed services for channel partners, without granting access to an organization’s entire network.” Here we see some key terms: “securely” and “access from the outside.” While both intranets and extranets differ from the internet in general because of the “security” component, the key differentiating factor between intranets and extranets is this: Intranets are designed to communicate within an organization and extranets are designed to allow for communication outside the organization.

Read along in our next post as we discuss how to determine which to use (an intranet or an extranet) in what situation, depending on a variety of factors and needs.

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