What is an Intranet?

You may have seen the term “intranet” before and thought it was just a misspelling of the word “Internet.” However, an intranet is a term in and of itself. It refers to “a collection of private computer networks within an organization,” including businesses, schools, governments, hospitals and so on.

The prefix “intra –“ means within, so it’s easy to remember that an intranet is a network of computers within an organization that can easily share data and help employees or members communicate.

How do Intranets work?

Whereas the Internet is a massive collection of connected computers and other web-enabled devices, an intranet is just a smaller network of connected devices within an organization or business. Intranet networks allow only those connected to the local area network (LAN) using special passwords to access Intranet data and methods of communication.

Companies and organizations can utilize email services, newsletters, social networks and websites within the intranet. These websites and services won’t be available to the whole body of Internet users – just employees or members connected to the intranet.

Since an intranet will utilize Web pages to display information (just like the Internet), typical Web programming languages such as HTML, Java, Flash and XML are used to build any intranet sites and services.

Some companies and organizations want members to be able to connect to the intranet even when they are not on site. In order to allow remote access, organizations create extensions to the intranet called extranets.

Intranet vs. VPN

In order to explain the different between an intranet and a VPN, it’s important to understand what a VPN is. The abbreviation stands for “virtual private network.” Both technologies are utilized by businesses and organizations that need to securely connect members in the network.

While an intranet connects members internally, a virtual private network is used to allow members to remotely connect and access the private network as if they were using the organization’s LAN.

If an organization has offices or members spread over large distances, a virtual private network provides an inexpensive way for these offices to share data and communicate. A VPN also keeps connected computers and shared data secure using encryption.