If terms such as "intranet" and "extranet" are as foreign to you as George Clooney playing a doctor on the TV show "ER," here's a primer on the communications tools many physician executives use to get research and manage their practices.
The Internet is an electronic network of computers that includes nearly every university, government, and research facility in the world, plus innumerable commercial sites. It started in 1969 with four interconnected computers and spread in the 1970s to a worldwide collection of networks funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
An intranet is a private network inside a company or organization that uses the same kinds of software that you would find on the public Internet, but it's for internal use only. As the Internet becomes more popular, many of its tools are being used in private networks. For example, many companies have World Wide Web servers that are available only to employees.
An extranet is a collaborative network that uses Internet technology to link offices or businesses with suppliers, customers or other businesses with common goals. An extranet can be viewed as part of a company's intranet made accessible to other offices or companies, or as a collaborative Internet connection with other companies. The shared information can be available only to the collaborating parties or can be publicly accessible.
Such systems require security. An extranet usually provides privacy from competitors by allowing various levels of accessibility to outsiders. You can access an extranet only if you have a valid user name and password, and your identity determines which parts of the extranet you can view.
An intranet resides behind a security device known as a "firewall" and is accessible only to people who are members of the same company or organization.