The following article appeared in Thrust for Educational Leadership, Volume 28, No. 4, March/April 1999.
Intranet: It's not just a typo anymore
Even if you've been firmly ensconced under a rock since 1989 and your secretary (or you!) still uses an IBM Selectric to type your correspondence, you've heard the buzz about the Internet. And you might have thought, "So, what's that got to do with me?" In short: lots.
Many businesses, organizations and public agencies (including school districts) have turned the same technologies that make the Internet possible into tools for increasing productivity and lowering costs. This set of tools -- when used within an individual organization -- is called an intranet.
With an intranet, a district with a centralized information repository -- be it a mainframe, minicomputer or network server -- and a computer network can transform any computer within the organization into a report-generating powerhouse.
With an intranet, any information that may have been hidden by a layer of bureaucracy from the technology have-nots can be searched, sifted and filtered by anyone with a Web browser. Upper management can have reports within minutes instead of the hours -- or even days -- it may have taken before.
How is this miracle accomplished?
Anyone who has used the Web is familiar with the idea of hyperlinked information. Click on an underlined keyword or phrase and the screen is refreshed with new content; related information is available within moments. Or, fill out a form in your Web browser and have specific information filtered out of thin air and placed on your screen in seconds.
Imagine if you could do this with all the information your district now has locked away in the refrigerated hinterland of the district computer room, accessible only to a priesthood of geeks.
Well, now you can.
The Internet and intranets both run using a protocol called TCP/IP. A protocol is simply a code of polite or diplomatic conduct, in this case one for communication between computers.
TCP/IP allows computers separated by distance (from a few feet to thousands of miles) to exchange data by breaking it up into small packets. Each packet is given a sequence number, an origination code and a destination code. Then each packet is sent over a wire to find its own way through the network. Each computer intercepting one of the packets reads the destination code and forwards the packet by the shortest available route.
When all of the packets arrive at their destination, the receiving computer puts them all in the proper sequence and gives the user of the receiving computer access to the data. If any packets fail to arrive, the receiving computer sends a message to the originating computer and asks it to resend the missing pieces.
This protocol is what makes the World Wide Web, in addition to the less famous services of the Internet -- such as FTP, gopher and WAIS -- possible.
Conversely, two fundamental differences separate an intranet from the Internet:
The advantages of an intranet over more traditional information retrieval systems are legion:
There are, however, some downsides to implementing an intranet to replace your district's existing information infrastructure:
Districts would be wise to at least investigate intranet possibilities. Many resources are available on the World Wide Web (see sidebar). In addition, trade journals and books can be valuable. However, since the Internet field continues to evolve so rapidly, the Web resources are almost certainly the most valuable when seeking an overview of intranet issues.
Intranet resources on the Web
CIO Magazine's Intranet Research Center
Marc Elliot Hall is ACSA's webmaster.
Copyright 2000, Marc Elliot Hall, DBA Sensation! Services