Building an intranet
Mar 1, 2001 12:00 PM, By Kevin McNamara, CNE
Most stations are using the Web as a means to communicate with listeners and as a means to extend marketing efforts. Many companies are using Web technology to communicate with employees through an intranet. What is an intranet? It is a website that is only accessible to users within the company. The addition of an intranet can provide a wealth of information to employees, while creating significant savings for the company.
Building an intranet
Intranets are accessed using a Web browser. Assuming there is a PC-based network in place and your employees are connected to it, you have most of the basic equipment. The key component of an intranet is a PC configured as a Web server. The tricky part is determining how much information you want to provide and how many users will need access to it. Let's consider a few fundamental issues in selecting and configuring a server.
A fully functional Web server can be implemented using any of the classic network operating systems, such as Unix (or Linux), Windows NT or Sun. Each of these has merits; however, unless you have a large budget or corporate mandate, the Linux operating system is probably the best choice in terms of price, power and scalability. Another advantage is that Linux will operate on virtually any PC platform from a 386 or higher. From a performance standpoint, I advise using a PC with a Pentium 2 or higher CPU, at least 128MB of RAM and as much disk space as possible. Once the Linux operating system is properly loaded and configured, load the Web server software. The most popular Web server software is called Apache and, like Linux, is available as a free download. There are numerous websites that deal with both Linux and Apache and will take you step-by-step through the setup process. These programs can also be purchased as boxed versions containing wizards that automate the installation.
The PC selected for this application will also require the installation of a network interface card (NIC) compatible with your network infrastructure. Assuming you are using an Ethernet network, a simple 100baseT NIC would work; however, some networks use a hybrid design typically consisting of a Token Ring backbone (copper or fiber) connecting multiple servers that are tied (through a router) to one or more Ethernet segments. In this situation, I advise attaching the Web server to the ring backbone.
The subject of IP addressing is somewhat complex and the subject of many textbooks; however, you should know some basic information. An IP address is a unique identifier for a device attached to a TCP/IP network. In the setup, establish a fixed (or static) IP address and name for the Web server. Like telephone numbers, IP addresses (as opposed to domain names) used on the Internet are assigned and registered to individual and corporate users by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); however, a block of IP addresses (192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255) are reserved for assignment to private networks not connected to the Internet. Generally, these IP addresses are assigned to local network equipment. LANs with a direct connection to an Internet gateway may have one or more assigned IP address, however the local devices attached to the network will still be given addresses from the reserved block. A router is placed between the Internet gateway termination and local network server in order to properly form a connection between the Internet and each individual workstation.
For most applications, an intranet Web server should be attached on the �local network� side of a router so that traffic to/from the server stays �in the house.�
The purpose of an intranet is to provide a convenient method for employees to find a variety of information related to the business, such as:
Online Reference. Phone lists, instructions, employee manuals, products, news, other documents.
Management Information. Accounting reports, scheduling, music lists, traffic info, network info.
Interactive Communications. Company events, sales and ratings info.
Training. Online training and tutorials.
Announcements. Special events, birthdays, press releases, newsletters.
Perhaps the primary advantage of a well-implemented intranet is a cumulative cost savings. For example, if an employee needs certain health benefits information, she could find everything necessary on the intranet, thus saving time otherwise spent with the benefits coordinator. Any tool that reduces time spent on a particular task creates savings. If 100 employees save 10 minutes per day, it would equate to 1,000 total minutes per day of time saved.
Creating the site
Like the Internet, intranet sites are viewed using a browser and content can be created using HTML, Flash, Java, ActiveX or any other Web development environment. Programs such as FrontPage, Go Live and Dreamweaver make the process of site creation easier. Most current office applications provide a means to save documents in the HTML format, which makes it easy to add and update the site as needed. Older documents, or those that do not exist as files, can be scanned and saved as a PDF file using Adobe Acrobat. If controlling access to certain areas of the intranet is an issue, pages can be password protected as necessary.
The most crucial part of deploying a successful intranet is making employees aware that the site exists and that it is a relevant source of information. Gaining access to your intranet is as simple as pointing a Web browser to the IP address of the intranet server. Creating a shortcut to the site on each desktop can make it easy to access; better yet, set the default homepage for each browser to the intranet site.
Intranets are proven to increase the efficiency of communications within a company, providing steps are taken to create a site that is easy to use, content rich and a source of up-to-date information.
Kevin McNamara, BE Radio's consultant on computer technology, is president of Applied Wireless Inc., New Market, MD.
All of the Networks articles have been approved by the SBE Certification Committee as suitable study material that may assist your preparation for the SBE Certified Broadcast Networking Technologist exam. Contact the SBE at (317) 253-1640 or go to www.sbe.org for more information on SBE Certification.