Multi Tenancy – True Architecture for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)


Software is the brain of all the modern industries. Organizations today need a variety of software to perform all their operations uninterruptedly. In the sea of digital products and services the decision to pick the best software tool is not an easy one to make. In the last decade we have seen rapid movement of software from on-premise to the cloud, this form of software delivery is known as SaaS. SaaS takes advantage of the economies of scale enabled by multiple number of customers using the service delivered from same underlying software machine, this form of product delivery is termed as multi tenancy.

Cloud computing has been around for over a decade but the competitive advantage it holds for businesses has lately been manifested. Majority of big businesses have now invested in cloud computing and big data as they recognize the huge advantages they will have in future. SaaS or Software-as-a-Service is a form of cloud computing in which cloud hosted computer applications are delivered over the internet. This form of computing eliminates the complexity of managing expensive hardware and software at premise, above and beyond the internal resources. And the cost advantage of the cloud infrastructure being shared by users across the world is significant.

Multi tenancy is a form of SaaS delivery in which multiple users share a common instance of a software hosted in cloud. It allows required customization for individual customers such as branding via UI tweaks and color etc. In single tenancy model, each customer runs their own copy of the system, with their own copies of the processes. The more customers you have, the more copies of the processes you need to manage. Single tenancy also  puts a limitation on finegraining the application, that is its ability to be delivered in a microservice architecture, as more number of microservices need to be maintained and updated for every individual instance of software

Whereas multi tenant architecture is highly efficient, horizontally scalable distributed system, it can support more customers on fewer nodes, and fewer nodes means reduced cost. It also supports microservice architecture as an entire batch of users can be provided with updates in one go. The security apprehensions rising out of the fact that great number of clients are hosted in a single hardware is overcome by strong security measures, each tenant’s data is isolated and remains invisible to other tenants. This way customers do not share or see each other’s data. High risk industries like banking mostly use multi tenancy architecture to maintain customer accounts and database, which is a strong evidence that multi tenancy is safe for end users. Besides SaaS systems have become parts of our daily lives in form of Facebook, Twitter etc.

Phil Wainewright, founder of and a thought leader in cloud computing compares changes in IT landscape to be brought by cloud computing to that of automobile revolution in early 1900s.  If early motorists had only ever wanted to drive on their own private land automobile innovation would have peaked with the golf buggy. Private clouds and single-tenant SaaS applications are just as limited, and that’s why multi-tenancy matters. “Multi-tenancy matters because it’s the ideal architecture to make the most of the public cloud environment, a multi-tenant application runs on a shared platform that is constantly being fine-tuned to succeed better at those interactions. Multi-tenancy benefits enormously from the magic of something I call collective scrutiny and innovation. When hundreds or even thousands of other businesses are using exactly the same operational infrastructure, all of them benefit from each of the different ways in which they’re challenging and stretching that shared infrastructure.”

Vendors of multi tenant software benefit immensely from the architecture, as they need to maintain and make updates only at one central application to share it with all the users, whereas in single tenancy architecture, the provider has to touch multiple instances of the software in order to make updates, which is cumbersome and resource intensive. In multi tenancy an entire group of users share resources like servers, heating, cooling, security and more. All these benefits converted into reduced cost are passed down to the users, which means multi tenant services are cheaper. The opportunity to save money takes many forms and becomes greater as the application scales up. This reduces the cost of doing business for the vendor and savings can be passed onto customers.

Multitenancy as an approach for product delivery for vendors needs to be adapted at the time of the conception and design, bringing it in at a later stage will create chaos as the shift from single tenancy architecture to multi tenancy after the  first instance of product delivery entails risky production data migrations, systemic changes to every single service and data entity, and potential backwards incompatibility with older clients

Multitenancy as a true architecture for SaaS brings the highest level of efficiency in SaaS as it fully leverages the cloud environment. For organizations adapting multitenancy it allows for more efficient use of IT resources. It requires less upfront infrastructure procurement and saves resources dedicated to ongoing management and upgrades. iPC Scholar, the flagship digital content delivery and elearning platform from Impelsys is a true multi tenant SaaS platform with microservice architecture. It supports content in formats like ebooks, journals, videos, courses, and other, making it a one-stop solution for all things digital content delivery and online learning.