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What is an Extranet?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A company LAN, or local area network, can house a private Internet-like environment called an intranet. The intranet is basically a set of HTML pages relating to internal company business, for employee's eyes only, and is not available to the Internet. If access to or from the Internet is provided, it will be through a firewall gateway that will require a username and password. In this case the intranet becomes an extranet. In short, an extranet is the extension of an intranet to include public access.

An extranet can allow public access to employees, customers, clients or partners. It uses Internet protocols so users can navigate with a browser, but resides on the company's private server rather than on a public Internet server. Access to it from the Internet can be controlled through various architectures that are password or username specific. In other words, areas of the extranet will be available according to password credentials. This limits users to pages relevant to the business they might be conducting, while keeping other areas private and secure.

One very valuable application for an extranet is customer service. Online patches, upgrades, downloads, knowledge bases, and an interactive Help Desk are just a few examples of ways to serve a client base using an extranet. Chat boards where customers help each other with company products can also build customer confidence and brand loyalty, while saving valuable human resources. Such boards are also a rich source for potential future product and support development.

Another resource an extranet can provide is the ability to create secure areas for interaction between an organization and its partners or resellers. Development, dissemination of marketing information and tools, data sharing, research, sales reports and more are all possible using such an environment.

An extranet can also connect to other extranets through the common language of Internet protocols. This makes it invaluable to organizations involved in collaborative efforts and opens the door to greater creative opportunities. In the past, geography was a significant hindrance to collaboration, but this technology bridges that gap effortlessly and virtually cost-free.

Extranets can revolutionize the way a company does business, improve the bottom line, enrich the customer base, and create opportunities that remain out of reach without it. Someone who is interested in finding out more about what an extranet can do for your business, should consult a site developer.

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Discussion Comments
By David09 — On Apr 28, 2011

We have both intranets and extranets at our workplace. Employees sometimes work from home and so log in to the intranet using V.P.N. access. We also have separate servers that host software for our customers to download. Customers download these files from our extranet without touching our private network.

By Charred — On Apr 27, 2011

@watson42 – I couldn’t agree with you more. Our public library uses extranet software that allows its patrons access to its research databases online. In addition to the card catalog, I’ve been able to research academic journals, newspapers, magazines—and a whole bunch of other databases. These tools have been lifesavers to me when I’ve had to write research papers. Many of these services would normally require a subscription fee if I had to pay for them myself, but the public library offers them free of charge.

By watson42 — On Jan 30, 2011

One type of extranet portal that many people have probably used is something like a library database. Often available from the internet as well as on computers at the library's location, good databases of this kind can tell you what books they have, what places have available copies, and whether or not you can reserve them, either at your own library or by having them sent from another branch.

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