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Hosted Applications: Your Applications, Accessible from Anywhere

A hosted application is an application that is set up and maintained by an IT hosting company and that you access via the internet for a monthly or yearly fee.

What’s an Application?

If you aren’t sure what an application is, it is software like Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Intuit QuickBooks, and AutoCAD. Technically, an application is software that is used by a human user to perform actions on a computer, such as drafting a document or filing out a spreadsheet, and that runs on top of system software. (System software, meanwhile, is software like operating systems (Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux), BIOS, and device drivers. System software controls and manages a computer’s hardware and acts as a kind of intermediary or translator between applications and the hardware.)

Hosted applications are usually desktop applications, which means that they are designed to be primarily installed on and accessed from desktop PCs. Mobile applications, or mobile “apps” or just “apps,” in contrast, are applications that are primarily installed on and accessed from tablets or smartphones (Angry Birds, Evernote, and Uber being three well-known examples of this type of application). Since many mobile apps are for personal use only, as opposed to business-critical desktop applications like Microsoft Office and QuickBooks, it’s pretty uncommon to host mobile applications the same way you would host desktop applications.

In addition to desktop applications, another type of application that businesses will often have hosted by an IT hosting company is server-based applications, which are applications that are primarily installed on and accessed from servers, such as Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint, and CRM systems. Server-based applications usually support multiple users at a time, and wouldn’t be of much use if you installed them on individual desktop PCs.

There are also Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, which are applications that are hosted by default—meaning that you can only access them from a third-party company’s servers, via the internet, and they can’t be installed on a desktop PC or your own physical server. It’s usually impossible to host a SaaS application in the same way you can host a desktop or server-based application, since you can’t just download a SaaS application and install it wherever you want—and anyway, SaaS applications are already hosted, in the sense that they are installed on the servers of a third-party company, are accessed via the internet, and paid for a monthly or yearly basis. (However, there are some advantages to hosting the desktop or server-based version of a SaaS application, if such a version exists, with an IT hosting company, because it will give you a lot more control over how your application is hosted.)

What’s Hosting?

As mentioned, a hosted application, in the sense that we use it at Iron Orbit, is an application that is set up and maintained by an IT hosting company and that you access via the internet for a monthly or yearly fee. In general, though, “hosting” an application just means that the application is installed on a computing device (a server, normally) that is different from the one you are accessing it from.

If you want, you can host an application on a physical server that you buy and set up in your own office, using an application hosting solution such as Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) or Citrix XenApp. By hosting your applications in this way, you would allow your employees to access their applications from any computer connected to your local network. In addition, you centralize your applications, making them easier to protect from malware, update, and back up than if you had installed the applications individually on each of your employees’ desktops PCs.

There are several advantages to having an IT hosting company like Iron Orbit host your applications for you, though, rather than hosting your applications yourself. For one, applications hosted by a hosting provider can be accessed from anywhere with any computer, tablet, or smartphone via the internet by default.

Another advantage is that with applications hosted by a hosting company you don’t have to set up and maintain the servers and applications yourself. You also don’t have to buy any servers when you sign up for hosted applications, which means that your upfront costs are low, that you never have to pay to repair or replace the servers, and that you can sign up for and upgrade hosted applications on a temporary basis (if you need an application just for a one-time project, for example, or need to add more users, storage, or processing power to your e-commerce system during the holidays) without being stuck with expensive, unused hardware afterwards.

Finally, hosting your applications with a hosting provider can increase the performance, security, and reliability of your applications, since hosting companies (unlike many businesses) can afford advanced, enterprise-grade hosting hardware and software, and have lots of experienced, well-trained personnel that do nothing but monitor, manage, maintain, and support their clients’ hosted assets.

How Do I Sign Up?

Wondering how to get an IT hosting company to host an application for you? The process can vary from one hosting provider to another. There are some hosting providers that allow you to purchase and set up a hosted application automatically via an e-commerce system, just as you would buy any other consumer item online. Other hosting providers, including Iron Orbit, require you to contact them and coordinate with them first before they set up your application for you.

The first method obviously tends to be faster and more convenient, but the second method has its advantages, too: it allows you to coordinate with the hosting provider so that the application is set up and hosted exactly how you want it (or if you don’t know anything about application hosting, the hosting provider can figure out the best way to host your application based on the info you provide, such as your total number of employees). For example, by coordinating with the hosting provider healthcare organizations can get their applications hosted in a HIPAA-compliant way, and engineering firms can get their 3D modeling applications hosted on high-performance GPU servers.

If the application that you are having the IT hosting company host is one that you already use, you will probably want to move your existing software licenses and data to the new setup. If you signed up for the hosted application via an automated e-commerce system, you will probably have to transfer your licenses and data to the new server by yourself. However, if you actively coordinated the setup of your hosted application with the hosting provider, the hosting provider will probably handle this “migration” process for you (as Iron Orbit offers to do for our customers, for a small onetime fee).

The way you access your hosted application may also depend on the hosting provider, and is usually via a client (a kind of connection software), web browser, portal, or an RDS or virtual desktop-like environment.