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An extranet is a private network that uses Internet protocols, network connectivity, and possibly the public telecommunication system to securely share part of an organization's information or operations with suppliers, vendors, partners, customers or other businesses. An extranet can be viewed as part of a company's intranet that is extended to users outside the company, usually via the Internet. It has also been described as a "state of mind" in which the Internet is perceived as a way to do business with a selected set of other companies (business-to-business, B2B), in isolation from all other Internet users. In contrast, business-to-consumer (B2C) models involve known servers of one or more companies, communicating with previously unknown consumer users.

Extra-/intra-net

An extranet can be understood as an intranet mapped onto the public Internet or some other transmission system not accessible to the general public, but managed by more than one company's administrator(s). For example, military networks of different security levels may map onto a common military radio transmission system that never connects to the Internet. Any private network mapped onto a public one is a virtual private network (VPN), often using special security protocols.

For decades, institutions have been interconnecting to each other to create private networks for sharing information. One of the differences that characterizes an extranet, however, is that its interconnections are over a shared network rather than through dedicated physical lines. With respect to Internet Protocol networks, RFC 4364 states "If all the sites in a VPN are owned by the same enterprise, the VPN is a corporate intranet. If the various sites in a VPN are owned by different enterprises, the VPN is an extranet. A site can be in more than one VPN; e.g., in an intranet and several extranets. We regard both intranets and extranets as VPNs. In general, when we use the term VPN we will not be distinguishing between intranets and extranets. Even if this argument is valid, the term "extranet" is still applied and can be used to eliminate the use of the above description."

In the quote above from RFC 4364, the term " site" refers to a distinct networked environment. Two sites connected to each other across the public Internet backbone comprise a VPN. The term "site" does not mean "website." Thus, a small company in a single building can have an "intranet," but to have a VPN, they would need to provide tunneled access to that network for geographically distributed employees.

Similarly, for smaller, geographically united organizations, "extranet" is a useful term to describe selective access to intranet systems granted to suppliers, customers, or other companies. Such access does not involve tunneling, but rather simply an authentication mechanism to a web server. In this sense, an "extranet" designates the "private part" of a website, where "registered users" can navigate, enabled by authentication mechanisms on a "login page".

An extranet requires network security. These can include firewalls, server management, the issuance and use of digital certificates or similar means of user authentication, encryption of messages, and the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) that tunnel through the public network.

Many technical specifications describe methods of implementing extranets, but often never explicitly define an extranet. RFC 3547 presents requirements for remote access to extranets. RFC 2709 discusses extranet implementation using IPsec and advanced network address translation (NAT).

Industry uses

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, several industries started to use the term "extranet" to describe central repositories of shared data made accessible via the web only to authorized members of particular work groups.Scandinavia, Germanymarker and Belgiummarker, among others. Some applications are offered on a Software as a Service (SaaS) basis by vendors functioning as Application service providers (ASPs).

Specially secured extranets are used to provide virtual data room services to companies in several sectors (including law and accountancy).

For example, in the construction industry, project teams could login to and access a 'project extranet' to share drawings and documents, make comments, issue requests for information, etc. In 2003 in the United Kingdommarker, several of the leading vendors formed the Network of Construction Collaboration Technology Providers, or NCCTP, to promote the technologies and to establish data exchange standards between the different systems. The same type of construction-focused technologies have also been developed in the United Statesmarker and Australia.

Advantages

  • Exchange large volumes of data using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
  • Share product catalogs exclusively with trade partners
  • 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


Disadvantages

  • Extranets can be expensive to implement and maintain within an organization (e.g., hardware, software, employee training costs) — if hosted internally instead of via an application service provider.
  • Security of extranets can be a concern when hosting valuable or proprietary information. System access must be carefully controlled to secure sensitive data.


See also



Further reading

  • Callaghan, J. (2002), Inside Intranets & Extranets: Knowledge Management and the Struggle for Power, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-98743-8
  • Stambro, Robert and Svartbo, Erik (2002), Extranet Use in Supply Chain Management, University of Technology


Notes

  1. BGP/MPLS VPNsRFC4364,E. Rosen & Y. Rekhter, February 2006
  2. Requirements for IPsec Remote Access Scenarios, RFC3547, S. Kelly & S. Ramamoorthi, January 2003
  3. Security Model with Tunnel-mode IPsec for NAT Domains, RFC2709, P. Srisuresh, October 1999



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