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"Everyday Engineering"

      The VACETS Technical Column is contributed by various members , especially those of the VACETS Technical Affairs Committe. Articles are posted regulary on vacets@peak.org forum. Please send questions, comments and suggestions to vacets-ta@vacets.org

What is an Intranet and How to Build It?

Thao Mong Le

Today, organizations are discovering the ways to enhance their internal and external communications. One of the web technology that meet their needs the "Intranet".

1. Why is an Intranet Needed?

Today, the government, academia, and industry delivering private information to their internal users are already using Intranets. An Intranet is any internal network (Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN)) that supports Internet applications, primarily web (hypertext transfer protocol), but also other applications such as electronic mail, file transfer protocol (FTP), telnet, remote searchable indexes, and USENET News. Electronic mail allows a user to send messages and attachments (including images and programs) to other users on a remote computer. Files transfer protocol (FTP) allows transferring files between users. Tenet allows users to log into remote computers and use them as if they were local. The web browser, such as Netscape and MS Explorer allows a user to view electronic text and graphics files stored in a Web server.

Today, many organizations already use Intranets. The Intranet promises to help unblock the information flow, redesign business processes, and improve productivity for all users. An Intranet user can use remotely searchable indexes of information, free shareware, and other data. Intranets provides a plenty of features, such as an Intranet:

· allows sharing information with employees about organization's activities, and products efficiently;

· provides more information service with inexpensive client and server hardware and software.

· requires no special training for employees (just point and click on interesting topics).

· retrieves virtually any document type on-line (by reading document extensions and spawning external viewers, when necessary).

· supports imbedded hypertext links to local or remote documents.

· supports organization-wide standardization of on-line interfaces.

· supports retrieval and display of reports generated by external applications.

· supports automatic downloading or transfer of computer files at the click of a button.

· supports user authentication and encryption schemes.

· supports Internet services like Telnet, FTP, and e-mail, even on local networks.

· supports a wide variety of search engines, with rank-ordered, clickable, automatically hyperlinked search results.

· supports on-demand printing of desired documents on local or remote printers.

· allows viewing on any resolution monitor (user can adjust fonts locally for better viewing).

· works equally well on standalone computers, local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), or the global Internet.

· works on all major desktop-computing platforms (UNIX, Mac, PC, OS/2, etc.).

· allows integrating into popular computer operating environments (e.g., Windows NT, OS/2 Warp, Windows 95). How To Create an Intranet?

The Intranet web technology is able to provide a familiar, user-friendly front end to a wide range of information from libraries of personnel and technical documents to data warehouses full of corporate statistics, to business and technical data. This data can not only be accessed with a Web browser, but can be also be actively manipulated as needed. In order to set up an Intranet, the organization needs to look under the surface of the web for new and meaningful ways it can be used.

2. Hardware Requirements

The hardware configuration for an Internet server is varied. The minimum hardware requirements for an Intranet may include:

· A Pentium-based computer with MMX technology in full tower case with mouse and keyboard.

· 250-watt power supplies. This allow the server enough coverage for the power draw from one CD-ROM drive, one tape backup, one floppy drive, super VGA card, and the disk drive adapter card.

· 32MB RAM, at least.

· A 15-inch or 17-inch SVGA monitor.

· A Network Interface Card (NIC). This NIC needs to be compatible with the type of network cabling on the organization's LAN. · An Internal SCSI CD-ROM drive and SISC adapter card. NT includes terrific support for nearly all SCSI CD-ROM drives and handful of non-SCSI CD-ROM drives. In certain cases, it installs more easily from SCSI CD-ROM drives.

· A 5 GB hard disk drive. This is the C: drive, or the boot drive. The operating system and all utility programs will be installed in this drive. It can be either SCSI or IDE, but if an investment in a SCSI adapter card for a CD-ROM drive is made, there is no need for buying a separate controller card for IDE drives.

· A 5 GB hard disk drive. This is the D: drive and can hold the entire HTML files and graphics. This can be SCSI or IDE. The reason for having two physical drives are as follows: Better performance is obtained from having to platters spinning when multiple files are being loaded, and there is a gain in reliability if each drive is used less often.

· A 56 Kbps modem or ISDN.

· DAT or optical backup device. Automated file backups are highly recommended.

· An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Although optional, this is recommended for a reliable Intranet so an orderly shutdown can be conducted if power is lost on the server.

3. Software Requirements

Today most organizations use Windows NT, which offers reliability and security coupled with the familiar Windows user interface and run well on PCs. NT can deliver good performance under heavy user loads. There are hundreds of commercial, freeware, and shareware client and server programs for NT, in most every category, available on the Internet to help users get the most out of your project. With TCP/IP and remote access software built into the operating system, NT is one of the easier operating systems to use for the Internet/Intranet.

There are a number of available software tools for a Web server. In addition to using TCP/IP, the fundamental Internet/Intranet networking protocol that supports the Web over the organization local area and wide area networks, the organization will need to have the following software tools:.

· Internet Information Server 2.X · A Web design tool (e.g., Netscape Navigator Gold 3.X, Front Pages) · Paint Shop Pro. This is a good Windows graphics program that allow a Webmaster to put graphics in HTML pages.

· WinZip. This allows a Webmaster to compress and uncompress a file.

· CuteFTP. This allows a Webmaster to drag-and-drop between directories.

· Quickview. This allows a Webmaster to view, but not edit.

4. Benefits

The Intranet will offer its users a wide range of benefits. Some of these are:

· Shared resources related to organization's activities;

· Qualified references for organization staff;

· Instant access to the organization's electronic library or other information, while saving on printing costs;

· Provision of an excellent means of communication within the organization;

· Keeps employees updated on organization products and/or services;

· Inexpensive sharing of resources within organization, and

· Marketing and building credibility for the organization

An Intranet can be used to distribute information to organization users. Its Intranet Web server and web page allow organization staff to put many types of documents on-line for instantaneous access organization users.

The Intranets will allow employees a way to share its products and reports on-line, and allow them to copy any file through a single mouse-click across a network to any user who requests it. It also supports spontaneous user searches of information archives or database.


Thao Mong Le
tle@gatewayone.com

For discussion on this column, join vacets-tech@vacets.org


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