Guide

Computer networking

Advanced computer networks: intranets, extranets and VPNs

As your business develops, you may need to consider more advanced computer networking set-ups, such as wide area networks, virtual private networks, intranets and extranets.

These networks each offer different business benefits, such as:

  • linking together systems in different offices
  • allowing remote workers to access your office systems securely
  • providing up-to-date information for your staff and business partners

WANs

Wide area networks or WANs serve companies with offices at different locations. The WAN connects different local area networks together, into a more complex network. You will need to use client/server networks, based around central server computers, to connect the various servers over a telecommunications network. WANs use cables/lines that you lease from a telecoms company.

VPNs

A virtual private network or VPN allows the user to connect across the internet to the business' private network. It creates a secure link between the remote worker's computer and the central system. A VPN can be cheaper to use than leased lines or domestic-type broadband connections.

Intranets and extranets

Many businesses now build internal networks (more commonly known as an intranet) to store information on a central system at a private internet address, accessible only by their employees. Read about the benefits of an intranet.

Businesses can also open up certain areas of their intranets to partners, such as suppliers and customers, typically with a password. This is an extranet. For example, a business can let clients track the progress of their orders, and the payment of suppliers online can be linked directly to the business accounts system. See more on the benefits of an extranet.

Cloud networks

Another networking option is a public or private cloud. A cloud network can provide your core business applications and a secure, remote access to them.

Public cloud-based applications or services are typically shared between multiple organisations. Benefits of public cloud networks include easy and cost-efficient set up, scalability and no wasted resources since you pay for only what you use. However, the downsides can include data security and privacy, as well as restrictions on how your business can use or customise the applications in the shared environment.

Private cloud is similar to a public cloud network, except only your organisation is able to use or control the applications or services in the cloud. For more information, see cloud computing.