Intranet Introspection

A new year tends to bring out introspection in just about everyone, including IT managers. Looking inward, in the information systems context, it’s not hard to see that the Internet has paved the way for an application technology that virtually all businesses can use effectively: the intranet.

Chances are, you already have the knowledge base to start an intranet site that may not only replace some of your client/server applications, but also help automate business processes. Intranet sites can help reduce application and client maintenance and use the same principles as Internet applications, without added costs associated with hardware, software or training.

An intranet application is the same as an Internet application. Both are written with the same tools and can even be written with the same language, or located on the same physical AS/400 Web server. The essential difference between them lies in two areas: the application’s purpose and who can access the information it contains. Your intranet application is accessible only by users from inside your network. It is not visible to the outside world through the Internet. The work done in an intranet application is more concentrated in your day-to-day operations, and therefore, should only be visible to the users in your network.

Intranet applications can be written to accomplish any task. They are not limited in any way to specific jobs. They can be used to help automate help desk requests, or help centrally manage reports that need to be shared throughout an organization.

From the client perspective, there is only one component necessary for this architecture, an Internet browser. Clients should already have browsers installed if they have direct Internet access. Because the concept of an intranet site is similar to an Internet site, your AS/400 Web server is serving the same type of data and being interpreted by the same browser on the PC. Since the concept is so similar, it is possible to take advantage of the resources you already have invested in, such as Web application programmers, AS/400 Web server software, and Web development tools.

"Because the concept of an intranet site is similar to an Internet site, your AS/400 Web server is serving the same type of data and being interpreted by the same browser on the PC."
Compared to similar client/server applications, intranet applications provide better management of code. Client/Server applications require that portions be installed at the client site and configured so that the user can access the server portion of the application. They access your AS/400 resources in the same way as Internet applications, and require no specialized programming skills.

On an intranet, nothing needs to be installed that cannot be used elsewhere. All the code resides on the AS/400 Web server and sent to the browser as requested. This concept makes it easier to manage code as opposed to individual applications, which have to be installed on each client PC then updated individually as changes take place. In an intranet setting, it is possible to update the application with the necessary changes rather than deal with the management of updating all the clients. Making use of technologies such as Java Beans and Enterprise Java Beans, allows you to reuse the code to avoid creating the same components over and over. These components can be shared between Internet and intranet sites providing that the situation allows for this type of sharing.

Users accessing an intranet site can be restricted to what they can and cannot see. They log on using their username and password, which gives them access to the proper areas of the site. This provides a layer of security on top of your application and restricts access to the entire application.

Because they run in the same way, all Internet development tools can be used to create intranet applications. This also applies to your AS/400--the Web server does not require any additional components to start serving intranet sites. The same tools that helped establish your Internet profile can now help reduce your application maintenance. With no additional components for an intranet application, you should be able to create an intranet site on your AS/400 without much difficulty.

Establishing an efficient intranet, while it might seem like a duplication of technology effort, allows the users of your system to connect their work activities and provide better communication management throughout your organization. Setting up an intranet in your organization will provide better overall data tracking. The bonus is that all of this can be accomplished with little or no additional resource investment. That’s a new year’s resolution IT managers could live with.

Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market. Mbuchner@astech.com.