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SharePoint 2010: SharePoint on the Internet and in the Intranet--Different Environments, Similar Needs

You can use SharePoint Server 2010 to create both Internet and intranet sites, but you need to be aware of the key differences and similarities between the two.

Samantha Robertson and Cern McAtee

You can use Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to create different types of sites for different purposes, whether on the Internet or a corporate intranet. This same benefit, however, can complicate matters when it comes to designing specific implementations. You need to properly plan for the different aspects of Internet and intranet sites.

Both Internet and intranet sites are based on the publishing template (Publishing Portal site collection) in SharePoint Server 2010. Publishing features such as approval workflows, special permission groups, content types and master pages are available regardless of whether you’re creating a published intranet or Internet site.

A published intranet site is often referred to as a corporate portal. This is the main communications site for an organization, such as https://contoso or A published Internet site is often referred to as an Internet presence site. This is the public-facing site for an organization, such as For additional examples of all types of SharePoint Server 2010 sites created by customers, see the Customer Success Stories page. For more examples of Internet sites, see the case studies on the Microsoft Solutions for Internet Sites page.

Here we will discuss the ways SharePoint Server 2010 is different when you roll out a published SharePoint site in an intranet environment versus an Internet environment. We’ll also describe what these two environments have in common.

Key Differences

A few key differences set these types of sites apart, as shown in Figure 1.:

  Intranet Internet
User types Authenticated users only

Authenticated authors, designers, and owners

Anonymous users can browse

Content deployment Rarely used Often used
Multilingual user interface (MUI) and variations MUI used to support multilingual users Variations used for multiple regions
Services Full set of SharePoint service applications frequently used Search is heavily used, managed metadata used occasionally
Licensing requirements SharePoint Server 2010 Client Access Licenses – Standard or Enterprise SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet sites – Standard or Enterprise

Figure 1 The key differences between internal and external sites

Let's take a look at each of these key differences in a little more detail.

Different Users

One of the differences between intranet and Internet environments is the type of users who interact with the site.

Intranet sites are configured for authenticated users. The people who visit the site are typically part of the organization and are authenticated when they browse the site. It is rare for an intranet site to allow anonymous users – most organizations protect their data by allowing only authenticated users to interact with the site.

Internet sites are typically configured for browsing by anonymous users. On some Internet sites, anonymous users can log in and become authenticated users if they need to perform a transaction of some kind. Internet sites can also have authenticated users such as authors, approvers, and designers.

Content Deployment

Content deployment pushes content from an authoring environment to a destination or publishing environment. Typically, the authoring and publishing environments run on separate farms. The authoring environment is often on an internal network and the destination environment on a perimeter network (see Figure 2).

Intranet and Internet environments often differ on the use of content deployment. You would generally not have to use content deployment for an intranet publishing site. An intranet site can use a multiple-stage publishing process. The publishing approval and workflow features are usually sufficient to let content authors make published content available to intranet users on a per-item basis. For a list of considerations to help determine whether or not to use content deployment, see Plan Content Deployment.

Figure 1 In-place authoring environments

Figure 2 In-place authoring environments for SharePoint publishing sites

Content deployment is often used for Internet sites, however (see Figure 3). On a published Internet site where content is available to anonymous users, you would use content deployment to push new and updated content to a public site on schedule. This also helps maintain tighter security on the destination server.

Figure 2 Content Deployment environments

Figure 3 Content deployment environments

Multilingual Support and Variations

SharePoint Server 2010 includes a multilingual user interface (MUI) and variations, which are key features for supporting multiple languages. If your site needs to support multilingual users who will require language-specific context, you must install language packs on the server.

Most intranet sites (those using a combination of collaboration sites, MySites and publishing sites) can use the MUI to let site users and content authors interact with the site UI in the language of their choice. MUI does not translate authored content. It simply displays site UI, including administration pages, list and library settings—and certain pages in MySites—in the preferred language.

Internet sites can use variations to replicate content across different sites for specific audiences. After authoring content on a source site, it’s propagated to target sites where you can then translate it to another language. Like the MUI, the variations feature doesn’t translate authored content. Internet sites usually have anonymous users who only see content on publishing pages, so you don’t generally need to enable the MUI for Internet sites.

For more information about the MUI, see the Multilingual User Interface overview. For more information about variations, see the Variations overview.

SharePoint Services

SharePoint Server 2010 includes many services that provide sites with functionality such as User Profiles, Managed Metadata, Excel Services, PerformancePoint Services and Business Connectivity Services.

Intranet sites (depending on the edition) can use the full set of service applications offered in SharePoint Server 2010. Intranet sites typically include associated MySites. They can use Business Intelligence features to interact with data, as well as organize and service content using Managed Metadata and Search.

Internet sites use Search to help their users find what they need. They might use Managed Metadata to categorize content and provide keywords. However, the other services are not used in Internet sites, because they require authenticated users to provide useful information. Search is typically hosted in the same environment as the published Internet site itself, whereas the Managed Metadata service is hosted in the authoring farm.

For more information about how services are typically distributed within farms, see the Logical Architecture section of the Architecture Design for SharePoint 2010 Resource Center.

Licensing Requirements

The licensing difference between the two environments is a frequent cause of confusion. For an intranet site, licensing is per server and per user, based on Server Access Licenses and Client Access Licenses (CALs). For an Internet site, licensing is per server only. You don’t need any CALs. You will, however, need a different server license (SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites).

Each type of license has both a Standard and an Enterprise option, but they mean different things. With SharePoint Server 2010, the standard CAL provides core capabilities, such as collaboration sites, search and enterprise content management. The Enterprise CAL provides additional functionality, such as People Search and Business Intelligence features. With SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites, the standard server CAL is designed for small or midsize companies and supports only a single domain and related sub-domains. The Enterprise server CAL includes those capabilities, plus support for multiple domains and the right to use Microsoft FAST Search for Internet sites.

For more details about licensing, see the How to Buy SharePoint 2010 page and the Licensing Details page.

Intranet and Internet–Many Similarities

Despite these key differences, intranet and Internet sites based on SharePoint Server 2010 actually have a lot in common. Both require careful planning to ensure that the content, structure, and look of the site are appropriate to the organization and the users they want to attract and retain. In most cases, both need distinctive visual branding. Both also need fresh content to keep users interested, and both have similar performance characteristics. Figure 4 summarizes the commonalities between these types of sites.

  Both Intranet and Internet sites require:
Site planning That you understand your audience and the goals of the site
Branding Careful branding to ensure you are presenting the correct image for your organization
Fresh content Continuous updates and new and accurate content to keep users coming back
Navigation and site structure A good organization to help users find the information they need
Search Good use of search functionality to provide the most appropriate content to users
Performance and monitoring Thorough planning, careful configuration, and consistent monitoring to provide the best possible performance
Authentication choices Appropriate authentication choices for the organization's environment

Figure 4  A summary of the similarities between intranet and Internet sites

Site Planning

You need careful planning to ensure a successful site. Start by determining the vision for the site and identifying key user scenarios. Then work out the details, from defining the information architecture to determining the appropriate logical and physical architecture to support the site.

For intranet sites, the Plan section of the Published Intranets in SharePoint Server 2010 Solution Center can help you get started. For Internet sites, you can use the intranet steps as a starting point because Internet site planning follows a similar process.


Your organization’s tone and identity should come through loud and clear both on your intranet site and your public-facing Internet site. Applying your brand to any SharePoint site gets the message across. From how you structure your pages to the colors and fonts you use, to the images you include and even heading styles, your brand shows your corporate identity.

For some great information and advice about branding intranet and Internet sites, see Real World Branding with SharePoint 2010 Publishing Sites.

Fresh Content

You can have the best-looking site there is, but if nothing ever changes, your users won’t come back. Keeping the content dynamic is paramount. Use governance principles to manage the information in your site and keep it fresh and accurate. Set up a calendar for promoting new content and highlighting frequently used content. Create a schedule to periodically review and maintain your content so you can remove or update anything that’s old or inaccurate in a timely fashion. For more information about governing content, see the TechNet Governance in SharePoint Server 2010 Resource Center.

Having a logical order to the structure of your site and an easy, clear way for users to navigate is critical to providing a pleasant user experience. SharePoint Server 2010 provides global navigation controls that are the primary navigational mechanism for a site. There’s also a Quick Launch control that provides secondary navigation of pages related to the current site location.

Devote part of your site planning to not only the kinds of content your site will host, but also to how to present that content and structure the areas of your site in a way that makes sense to users. Note that SharePoint Server 2010 does not support International domain names, so keep that in mind while planning site URLs.

Search is key for both intranet and Internet sites. How do you ensure that users can find what they need on the site? Use the Enterprise Search features to ensure the most relevant content shows up in search results.  Be sure to scale your search components appropriately for your environment, so that search is available when it’s needed. For more information, see Getting Started with Enterprise Search in SharePoint 2010 Products and the Enterprise Search Resource Center.

Performance and Monitoring

Both types of sites are based on the same publishing features, so they have a similar performance profile. Both types have a majority of “read” operations. Most users come to the site and look at content, rather than interact with or add content (“write” operations).

The Web Content Management performance and capacity article details key metrics, potential bottlenecks and how to use caching to get the most out of environments that have a lot of read operations. For information about how Microsoft plans for and manages capacity and performance on its own published intranet site, see the Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 enterprise intranet publishing environment: Technical case study.


For sites with large amounts of traffic, caching frequently accessed pages and data will greatly improve performance on the Web and database servers. When you optimize caching for your site, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Page output cache: This stores requested page content in memory on the server. Although it decreases the CPU load to serve pages after initial rendering, using this cache consumes additional memory on the Web server. For more information, see Output Caching and Cache Profiles.
  • Object cache: This stores objects such as lists and libraries, site settings and page layouts in memory on the server. Using this cache also consumes additional memory on the Web server. For more information, see Object Caching.
  • BLOB cache: This stores binary large objects (BLOBs) such as image, audio and video files. This cache is turned off by default and must be enabled. For more information, see Plan for caching and performance.

Bit Rate Throttling (for media)

Bit Rate Throttling is an Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0 extension that meters the download speeds of media file types and data between a server and a client computer. If you will be hosting large video files on your site, you should consider also enabling Bit Rate Throttling in IIS along with the BLOB cache. For more information about Bit Rate Throttling, see Bit Rate Throttling.


When you monitor published sites, it’s important to keep track of throughput, concurrent users and data growth. Throughput tracks how many requests a server farm can process per second to ensure you’re meeting expected user response time goals. The number of concurrent users relates to farm performance. Data and site growth over time tracks how quickly the database and site are growing, and projects how long the current infrastructure can meet your needs.

Authentication Choices

The authentication method you choose for your intranet or Internet site largely depends on what you have available in your environment.

If the majority of your users are in Active Directory, it makes sense to choose classic model authentication (see Figure 5) with one of the Windows authentication choices. The most common are NTLM or Kerberos.

If you have users in a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) system or a SQL Server or other database, or if you’re using another membership provider, a claims-based authentication method (see Figure 6) is appropriate.

Figure 3 Corporate portal with classic authentication

Figure 5 Corporate portal with classic authentication

This model illustrates the most common types of SharePoint sites in a typical corporate deployment that uses classic authentication. Download the model.

Figure 4 Corporate portal with claims-based authentication

Figure 6 Corporate portal with claims-based authentication

This model illustrates the most common types of SharePoint sites in a corporate deployment that uses claims-based authentication. Download the model.

Also check out the Security and Authentication for SharePoint Server 2010 Resource Center.

Even though intranet and Internet sites based on SharePoint Server 2010 have different needs in many respects — different sets of users, different licensing, and frequently a different method for deploying content — they actually have a lot in common. They both use the same publishing and branding features, they both benefit from careful planning, and they both need fresh, relevant content to attract and retain users.

Email Samantha Robertson

Samantha Robertson* is a Principal Technical Writer at Microsoft. She has been writing about the SharePoint product family since the beginning of SharePoint Team Services. She currently writes for the IT audience, producing content on TechNet about upgrade, deployment, and governance for SharePoint Server 2010*.


Email Cern McAtee

Cern McAtee* is a writer on the SharePoint user assistance team at Microsoft. He currently writes about Web content management for SharePoint Server 2010*.