How Intranets Works

By: Dave Roos

Setting up an Intranet

Routers are needed to give employeers access to the intranet.
Image courtesy of Netgear

Setting up a secure and reliable intranet requires these components:

  • Web server (hardware and software)
  • Networked PCs
  • Firewall hardware and software
  • Content Management Software
  • Other Application software

[source: University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Sciences].


A Web server is two things: hardware and software. The hardware you use for an intranet Web server depends on the intranet's size, the content to be published and the number of people accessing the intranet at any given time.

For example, if your intranet is text-only Web pages being accessed by five people, you don't need a powerful machine running your server software. If you're going to use your intranet to host streaming video to be accessed by thousands of employees at once, then you'll need a large, dedicated server or cluster of servers with significant bandwidth.

The server software handles all requests for files hosted on the server, finds the file and sends it off to the right computer. The most popular Web server software, Apache, is free. The second most popular Web server software is Microsoft Internet Information Server.

As for installing and configuring the Web server in a network, a company must first consider how critical the intranet will be for day-to-day operations. The more the intranet is used for "core business processes," the more redundancy needs to be built into the system [source: Intranet Journal].

In organizations where the intranet is a low-priority application, it's OK to throw everything in the same box: Web server, databases, applications and Web page content [source: Intranet Journal]. In companies where employees rely more heavily on the intranet for Web-based business applications, it's smart to employ a backup server or even a networked server cluster that share responsibilities. In those cases, it's also smart to host databases on separate machines so that if one server goes down, the rest can still access the databases [source: Intranet Journal].

For employees to access the intranet, their computers need to be connected to the organization's local area network (LAN). These computers also need to have Web browser software like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari.

Firewall hardware and software both accomplish the same thing -- they're the gatekeepers. Firewalls stand between the outside Internet and the corporate intranet, monitoring all incoming and outgoing data packets for unauthorized or suspicious requests [source: Vicomsoft]. A firewall is essential for intranet security, particularly if the intranet includes extranet extensions or allows remote login from outside of the corporate LAN [source: Intranet Journal].

For creating, publishing and managing the content on the intranet, most companies use a content management system (CMS), a Web-based application that makes it easy to create standardized Web content without having to know HTML or other programming languages [source: KM Column]. The CMS can be hosted on the Web server or on a separate applications server.

Other software can be loaded onto the intranet Web server or applications server as the company sees fit. This may include a Web-based conferencing application, a project management tool or a comprehensive CRM tool like SAP or PeopleSoft.

If you don't want to worry about setting up servers and installing software, you could subscribe to a hosted intranet service where your intranet is hosted by a third-party for a monthly fee. You would access the intranet by logging into the service provider's

Now let's take a look at the future of intranets.