‘What is web hosting?’ is a question that’s become trickier to answer in the last few years. In the past, web hosting was simply a service with which to publish your website online
However, the growth of cloud computing and web applications, plus the availability of fast internet connections means you can now use web hosting to do jobs for which you’d previously have used your own computer.
As a result, there are many different types of web hosting available – meaning that for your business, the answer to ‘what is web hosting?’ has more scope than ever.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is space on a server (usually called a ‘web server’) which you rent from another company. You can upload files, folders, databases and programs to that space, if you wish.
That server isn’t located on your premises. It’s usually kept safely with lots of other servers in a special building called a data centre. And it’s permanently connected to the internet, so you can log in and access your data from anywhere, at any time.
It’s easiest to think of web hosting as computing capacity on the internet which you rent. Any files or information you load into that space can then be accessed online.
What is web hosting used for?
Web hosting is ‘always on, always connected’, which means it’s most often used to publish a website. Once you’ve uploaded your website files to your web hosting service, they can be viewed by anyone else who’s online.
However, the answer to ‘what is web hosting for?’ doesn’t end there. It’s more than data storage. You can use it to actually do things – to perform useful tasks, or to replace IT hardware that you run and operate in your own business.
That’s why it’s important to remember that web hosting is not just disk space which you’re renting. You’re also buying access to some of that server’s computing power.
Publishing a website is still – by far – the most common use for web hosting services. But you can use them for many other things too. For instance:
- Hosting your intranet site. An intranet is a private website for people in your company. It’s a good place to put company policies, documents and so on. You can upload it to your hosting and restrict access to people in your business.
- Storing your business data. As internet connections get faster, it’s becoming more common for companies to store data online. This is usually more flexible than using a server on your premises, because you can log in from anywhere.
- Data backups. Web hosting is an easy way to take a backup copy of important data and store it off-site, where it’ll be safe if there’s a disaster (like a fire) at your premises. You simply copy everything to your hosting, over the internet.
- Running applications. Traditionally, companies have run central applications – like a customer database – from a network server on their premises. But why not run it on your web hosting? That way you can access the applications from any internet connection.
- Company email. Email is another very common use for web hosting. Rather than having to maintain an email server to handle all incoming and outgoing mail, you can use web hosting space instead.
These services are all forms of cloud computing, where you use resources on the internet to perform tasks for your business. And web hosting is a crucial part of cloud computing, because it’s where those resources live.
In fact, most cloud computing services that you purchase by the month already come with web hosting, so you don’t need to worry about the hosting at all. But if you’re developing your own applications, or looking to install software onto your hosting, then you need to check carefully the kind of hosting you need.
If you’re clear on the answer to ‘what is web hosting?’, read about the types of web hosting available, to understand which is right for you.
Browse topics: The internet