What’s the Difference Between Intranets and Extranets?

Exploring the similarities and differences between intranets and extranets — and how SharePoint fits in

Microsoft SharePoint is an interactive enterprise software system that facilitates both intranet and extranet usage. While they are both similar in nature, each service can be manipulated to function very differently depending on the individual needs of the business.

Before we compare intranets vs. extranets, let’s first review the definitions of each.

What is an Intranet?

Definition

An intranet is a private network that allows employees and staff in an enterprise to securely share knowledge and information easily within the company or organization. Information, tools, directories, and services available on a company’s intranet are typically unavailable to the general public. The prefix "intra" implies that an intranet is designed for internal communications only. Intranets are usually restricted to specific local area networks (LANs) or wide area networks (WANs).


Microsoft offers an intranet solution within its SharePoint platform. The SharePoint intranet outperforms most other intranets. While other intranets focus on the “look and feel” or customizable options of the internal site, they are lacking in the area of functionality.

Examples of the practical features SharePoint offers for developing intranet portals include:

  • Project sites. Includes managing group tasks, hosting discussions, and storing documents for specific projects.
  • Office web apps. Useful for collaboration on office documents in real-time through a web browser.
  • Community sites and portals. Allows colleagues to hold discussions and establish positive reputations in community forums.
  • Task synchronization. Allows a company to manage tasks across SharePoint and Microsoft Exchange.
  • Document versioning. Keeps documents from being duplicated by storing a history of documents.
  • MySites and newsfeeds. Follows people, projects, and group sites through updates on a personal site.

With all the options available with SharePoint, organizations are better able to design an intranet that their employees not only learn easily, but also look forward to using on a daily basis.

What is an Extranet?

Definition

An extranet is a private network that leverages internet technology and public telecommunication system to share part of a business's information or operations over a secure system with suppliers, vendors, partners, customers, or other businesses. An extranet is often considered part of a company's intranet that is extended to authorized users outside of the organization.

An extranet is regularly referred to as a “state of mind” Internet system, allowing companies to securely do business with other companies, or to sell products to customers.

The nature of information processed through an extranet typically requires security and privacy. This can come in the form of firewall server management, issuing and using digital certificates (or other kinds of user authentication), the encryption of messages, and using virtual private networks (VPNs) that can tunnel through a public network.

SharePoint extranets can be used to create a secure, encrypted platform where people or businesses outside of your intranet can be given controlled access for shared business purposes. These web-facing sites are often used to integrate third-party vendors, suppliers and other B2B relationships into a shared collaborative environment.

Extranets allow enterprises to:

  • Exchange large volumes of data using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).
  • Share product catalogs exclusively with wholesalers or those "in the trade."
  • Collaborate with other companies on joint development efforts.
  • Jointly develop and use training programs with other companies.
  • Provide or access services provided by one company to a group of other companies, such as an online banking application managed by one company on behalf of affiliated banks.
  • Share news of common interest exclusively with partner companies.

Compare & Contrast: Intranet vs. Extranet

Intranets and extranets share key similarities and functionalities, but also some stark differences. Knowing how each functions can help your business discern which would work better for your employees and business as a whole.

Similarities

Differences

Central Repository

Intranets and extranets both allow businesses to store and share critical group calendars, documents, and projects in a central location.

Collaboration Tool

Both intranets and extranets allow for improved collaboration among employees, distributed workforces, customers, and partners — thus allowing for increased productivity.

Web Accessibility

Intranets are typically only accessible within a company through in-house servers. By comparison, extranets work through external collaboration and are accessible via a secure web-based connection.

Technical Structure

With an intranet, a system admin assigns and manages the rights and permissions of persons to access the company’s in-house server controls. Comparatively, extranet access (or a customer portal) is generally restricted to external users and enabled through a VPN.


For more information about SharePoint, cloud computing, or more details about intranets and extranets, contact Innovative Architects. You can also browse our knowledge center and blog for further information.