The Difference Between Extranet and Intranet Functionality

Do you know the difference between extranet and intranet technology? It's simple: One is accessible beyond your company's firewall, and the other is not. Which technology would serve your organization best: extranet or intranet?

What is the difference between extranet and intranet?
An extranet has a portal to the outside world, while an intranet is an entirely internal network. Both intranet and extranet technology operates with normal HTML functionality, including proprietary limited-access Web sites, e-mail and FTP capabilities. Intranets and extranets typically look like regular Web sites, but they can only be accessed by a specific user group; either entirely internal, or with restricted access for some external users.

Extranets still aren't open connections, though; extranet users require a logon and security certificate to access extranet functionality. Intranets and extranets by definition have different levels of security, and thus each technology is better suited to different types of applications.

The differences in technology affect security.
By the very nature of the two technologies, intranet and extranet solutions are not equally secure. Intranet technology is completely secure, because it is entirely internal. Intranets are hosted on local area connections, or restricted behind a firewall. Intranets have no portals to the outside world, or they're no longer intranets; they become an extranet with an external portal. A given organization could have a series of both intranets and extranets to serve company needs.

Because extranet technology involves a portal beyond company resources, the extranet by definition is less secure. Advances in Internet security and encryption mean that extranets are still extremely secure; some sources estimate that extranet encryption could take hackers years to crack. However, the vulnerability is there, and that makes an extranet unsuitable for some applications.

Extranet technology serves a different purpose in business applications.
Because extranet technology is less secure by nature, it tends to serve a different purpose in business applications from a network intranet. An extranet is typically used in business-to-business communications, giving business clients a convenient HTML-based point of contact.

Extranets can enable business clients to place orders, check supply inventories, peruse order histories, browse FAQs or help documents or perform other company-related interactions. Intranets are used more to exchange proprietary internal information in a secure setting, such as managing payroll, distributing human resources documentation or sharing data and collaborating within the company.

Who uses an intranet, and who uses an extranet?
By definition, an intranet is restricted to users within a company, as an intranet has no external portals. Therefore, intranet users might include an executive team, accounting department, human resources department and even regular company employees. Depending on how an intranet is configured, different users might have access to different levels of information.

A company extranet, on the other hand, is designed as a way for a company to share data with external users. A company extranet may extend to vendors, suppliers, business clients and customers: The possibilities are limited only by the scope of the extranet. Each of these users requires a unique logon and security certificate, and extranet administrators can typically track extranet use through the security certificates.

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