What’s the Difference between SharePoint Intranets and Extranets?

Microsoft SharePoint, by definition, is an interactive enterprise software system that allows both Intranet and Extranet usage. While Intranet and Extranet are both similar in nature, they can be manipulated to function very differently depending on the needs of a business.

What is an Intranet?

An intranet is IT framework that allows organizations to share knowledge and information easily within the organization. Microsoft has an intranet service solution within its SharePoint platform that performs further than most features of 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 - SharePoint does not.

Some examples of the practical features SharePoint can offer for developing intranet portals include:

  • Project Sites
    • Which 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 & Portals
    • Allowing colleagues to hold discussions and establish positive reputations in community forums
  • Task Synchronization
    • Allowing 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 designer, you will be able to design an intranet that your employees will not only learn easily, but also will look forward to using daily.

What is an Extranet?

By comparison, an extranet is a private network. Extranets use 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 external parties. In addition, a company can extend an extranet to users outside of the company or an extranet can be viewed as part of a company's intranet. An extranet can also act as a “state of mind” Internet system, which allows companies to do business with other companies, or to sell products to customers.

The nature of information processed through an extranet 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.
Extranets can allow companies 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 common similarities and functionalities, as well as stark differences. Knowing how each functions can allow a business to discern which would work better for their employees and business as a whole.

Similarities

  • Central Repository
    • Intranets and extranets both allow businesses to store and share critical group calendars, documents, and projects in a central location—allowing for ease of collaboration
  • Collaboration Tool
    • Intranets and extranets both allow for improved collaboration among employees, distributed workforces, customers and partners, thus allowing for increased productivity

Differences

Intranets and extranets have key differences that typically involve the accessibility and technical structure.

  • 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 area
  • Technical Structure
    • With an intranet, a system administrator 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) generally is restricted to external users and enabled through a VPN

For more information about SharePoint, cloud computing or further information about intranets and/or extranets, please visit Innovative Architects (www.innovativearchitects.com). You can also browse our knowledge center and blog for further information.