Issue No. 05 - September-October (1997 vol. 1)
Intranets are where the proverbial rubber meets the business road. The term was coined by Eric Schmidt (then vice president for technology at Sun Microsystems) to describe the application of Internet standards and systems to the management of internal corporate networks. While public intranet awareness has risen over the past five years, the functions served by intranets have been an essential aspect of all organizations throughout human history. The Roman Empire had its sophisticated system of roads on which couriers could cover nearly 200 miles per day conveying the orders essential for managing the far-reaching empire. In the early days of rail commerce, railroad operators developed intricate systems of switching and signals to avoid accidents and collisions on their lines. The need for fast, accurate business communication during the industrial revolution laid the foundation (and created the economic incentive) for invention of the telegraph and telephone.
The modern corporate enterprise operates at the speed of overnight mail, faxes, and telephone conference calls. The new communication needs of business include complex types of information—knowledge that cannot be efficiently and securely conveyed with these existing media. Examples include the collaboration of teams of designers on the creation of a new product and the interactions of businesses with their sales forces while they are on the road.
Larger enterprises, such as Ford Motor Company, Boeing, CIGNA, and IBM, have had the resources for several decades to maintain sophisticated internal networks for computing and communication. These networks usually consisted of a centralized pool of mainframe computers with network links to terminals and workstations throughout the company. As workstations and PCs have assumed greater roles, an increasing amount of this computation is occurring in networked machines on the desktop. Indeed, for nearly 20 years, Novell has been developing the software for managing internal corporate PC networks for all different levels of business. While the Internet has captured the public imagination and the headlines, intranets are quietly improving the business bottom line. Intranets are showing people where the money is—enabling people to work and communicate more efficiently.
This special issue of IEEE Internet Computing has collected peer-reviewed articles and industry reports describing the current practice and future potential of intranets. Until very recently, in the view of the computer science research community, corporate business networks were the domain of CIOs and information system specialists—and thus far removed from any "fundamental" research problems. The impact of Internet technologies on business practice over the past five years has changed these perceptions and opened many cultural and technology issues to research scrutiny. The articles we have collected provide a cross-section of some of these activities.
IC's Editor-in-Chief Charles Petrie and Acquisitions Editor Meredith Wiggins interviewed Eric Schmidt in his new offices as CEO of Novell. Recent rumors in the business press of Novell's death have been greatly exaggerated. The company's network software runs corporate intranets for over 60 million people. Schmidt gives us a view on the directions ahead for the development of new information services and network utilities.
Kevin Tolly presents his perspective on the current debate about ATM versus frame-based networks, the technologies that form the backbone of the corporate network.
Zahir Tari and Shun-Wu Chan discuss the role-based security and access control in intranets—a topic of immense importance as businesses increasingly rely on the network.
Sandy Ressler and Bill Trefzger of the National Institute of Standards and Technology present a case study of NIST's intranet, the NIST Virtual Library, and its implementation.
Walt Scacchi and John Noll describe a specific example of the benefits resulting from the application of process-driven intranets. Their work to automate the Office of Naval Research's proposal submission and review has resulted in significant cost savings to ONR.
This issue also includes two nontheme articles: a special backgrounder on the CORBA standard for interoperability (Baker, Cahil, and Nixon, pp. 52-57) and a survey of information retrieval technologies for Web searches (Gudivada et al., pp. 58-68).
We hope this issue provides an overview of some of the exciting activities rapidly changing the internals of business today. As Internet Computing revisits these themes over the coming years, we will chronicle both the scientific and social impact of intranets on our daily business lives.
William Regli is a member of the editorial board for IEEE Internet Computing. A link to his home page and vita is available at http://computer.org/internet/.