Cloud: Multi-tenancy? Single-tenancy? Does it matter?

Multi-tenancy versus single-tenancy
"A cloud customer really only cares about one thing – the ability to access mission-critical applications and data in a secure, seamless, and cost-efficient way."

A question I hear a lot when discussing cloud options is, “Are you running your cloud on a multi-tenant or a single-tenant architecture?” My first thought is, “Does it really matter?”

Hear me out. A cloud customer really only cares about one thing – the ability to access mission-critical applications and data in a secure, seamless, and cost-efficient way. As long as the service works for you, then it is irrelevant how a cloud infrastructure is designed.

Just as a reminder, the differences between single- and multi-tenancy are:

  • Single-tenancy is an architecture in which a single instance of a software application and supporting infrastructure serves one customer (i.e., tenant).
  • Multi-tenancy is an architecture in which a single instance of a software application serves multiple customers (tenants).

I can understand why organizations may have initial concerns. For example, during the early stages of evaluating a cloud vendor, an organization may have questions about security. Multi-tenant based architectures are all about sharing resources, so this can sound like a security nightmare at surface level. However, while resources are shared across all customers in a multi-tenant environment, they are also segmented in a way that typically isolates customers from one another. Single-tenant based architectures do not share resources – each customer gets their own cloud environment – and, therefore, don’t have the same security concerns. Regardless of the architecture, security must be built in from the ground up.

The second hesitation might be around performance. As mentioned above, single-tenant vendors provide customers with dedicated resources where there is no sharing. Therefore, customers are only bound by actual performance limitations of the cloud instance characteristics that they purchased, as opposed to artificial limitations set by the vendor in a multi-tenant environment. With single-tenancy, customers are truly getting what they are paying for and nothing less. This isolation of environments and lack of sharing appeals to more risk-adverse organizations.

With multi-tenancy, isolation does not prevent performance impacts. Therefore, it is possible that customers with extreme usage could drag down the performance for everyone. Most vendors have overcome these issues, however, by limiting customer performance through hard limits or governors.

Even with these considerations, I reiterate, does single- or multi-tenancy matter as long as you can access and secure your data?

Every company has different needs. What truly matters is understanding what your needs are as you research different solutions. Perform a cost-benefit analysis based on the value proposition of each vendor’s actual solution… and don’t get hung up on the multi- versus single-tenant environment.


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