Just as organizations set up web sites to provide global access to information about their business, they also set up internal web pages to provide information about the organization to the employees. This internal set of web pages is called an intranet. Web pages on the intranet are not accessible to those outside the company; in fact, those pages would come up as “not found” if an employee tried to access them from outside the company’s network.
Sometimes an organization wants to be able to collaborate with its customers or suppliers while at the same time maintaining the security of being inside its own network. In cases like this a company may want to create an extranet, which is a part of the company’s network that can be made available securely to those outside of the company. Extranets can be used to allow customers to log in and check the status of their orders, or for suppliers to check their customers’ inventory levels.
Sometimes, an organization will need to allow someone who is not located physically within its internal network to gain access. This access can be provided by a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs will be discussed further in the chapter 6 (on information security).
Sidebar: Microsoft’s SharePoint Powers the Intranet
As organizations begin to see the power of collaboration between their employees, they often look for solutions that will allow them to leverage their intranet to enable more collaboration. Since most companies use Microsoft products for much of their computing, it is only natural that they have looked to Microsoft to provide a solution. This solution is Microsoft’s SharePoint.
SharePoint provides a communication and collaboration platform that integrates seamlessly with Microsoft’s Office suite of applications. Using SharePoint, employees can share a document and edit it together – no more e-mailing that Word document to everyone for review. Projects and documents can be managed collaboratively across the organization. Corporate documents are indexed and made available for search. No more asking around for that procedures document – now you just search for it in SharePoint. For organizations looking to add a social networking component to their intranet, Microsoft offers Yammer, which can be used by itself or integrated into SharePoint.
We covered cloud computing in chapter 3, but it should also be mentioned here. The universal availability of the Internet combined with increases in processing power and data-storage capacity have made cloud computing a viable option for many companies. Using cloud computing, companies or individuals can contract to store data on storage devices somewhere on the Internet. Applications can be “rented” as needed, giving a company the ability to quickly deploy new applications. You can read about cloud computing in more detail in chapter 3.
Sidebar: Metcalfe’s Law
Just as Moore’s Law describes how computing power is increasing over time, Metcalfe’s Law describes the power of networking. Specifically, Metcalfe’s Law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. Think about it this way: If none of your friends were on Facebook, would you spend much time there? If no one else at your school or place of work had e-mail, would it be very useful to you? Metcalfe’s Law tries to quantify this value.