Cloud-hosted software, often called “software as a service” (SaaS), has flourished in recent years because of the benefits it offers businesses, universities and IT organizations. These include a lower upfront investment, simplified deployment and upgrades, and better scalability.
But not all cloud-hosted software is created equally. The architecture on which your provider builds their software can have a dramatic impact on its cost, security, ongoing maintenance, and ability to grow with your usage needs.
And that’s why understanding the basics of multitenancy is critical to organizations considering cloud-hosted software.
Multitenancy is an architectural approach in which a single instance of software runs in the cloud, and that single instance serves multiple customers. It’s fundamental to reaping the benefits of cloud computing, and it’s the architecture that underlies today’s most popular SaaS-based applications. If you’ve ever used Salesforce.com, or if your organization uses Gmail or Google Docs, you’ve been interacting with multitenant services.
I recently sat down with Eric Burns, Panopto’s co-founder and chief product officer, to get an overview of multitenancy, and to discuss its benefits as they apply to video platforms.
Multitenancy is an architecture in which multiple customers share the same applications and compute resources in the cloud. These apps and resources are delivered to customers with consistent security, reliability, and performance.
For example, when you log in to salesforce.com, you’re using the same instance of the Salesforce application as every other Salesforce customer. This differs from single-tenant architectures, in which separate software instances serve different client organizations.
The oft-cited real-world analogy to multitenancy is an apartment building. Tenants within an apartment building share the same infrastructure utilities such as electricity and water. And it’s this shared approach that leads to the benefits of multitenancy.
Cost – Like tenants in an apartment building who cost-efficiently share utilities and other infrastructure, a multitenant architecture offers service providers massive economies of scale by sharing compute and storage resources across many different customers. For video platform providers, a multitenant architecture can drive operational cost savings for video storage and transcoding, and these savings can then be passed along to customers.
Scale – True multitenant architectures scale elastically as demand and usage grow, ensuring that customers never hit a “scalability cap.” For video platforms, this means that as the amount of organizational video content grows, customers never have to worry about purchasing additional hardware or upgrading to larger virtual machines.
Upgrades and Maintenance – Multitenant architectures dramatically simplify product upgrades and ongoing product maintenance. When a new version of the software is available, it’s applied to the single instance running in the cloud, and all customers are upgraded. This ensures that customers always have access to the most recent and secure version of the software. By contrast, single-tenant architectures require service providers to upgrade customers one-by-one. This process can be time-consuming and doesn’t scale well as the customer base grows.
Security – In Forrester’s report, Understanding Cloud’s Multitenancy, analyst John Rymer points out that, “despite resource sharing, multitenancy will often improve security. Most current enterprise security models are perimeter-based, making you vulnerable to inside attacks. Multitenant services secure all assets at all times, since those within the main perimeter are all different clients.” Using the apartment building analogy, tenants use one key to enter the apartment building, and a separate, unique key that provides them with access to only their apartment. These two levels of access control (that are required for their shared environment) provide tenants with additional security.
Environmental footprint – Finally, the massive economies of scale that come with multitenant architectures also translate into improved environmental sustainability in the form of energy and carbon footprints. True multitenant software can provide significant savings in energy consumption and carbon emissions when compared to both on-premises software and private clouds.
Start with the most fundamental question: Are you using a multitenant or single-tenant architecture?
If a video platform provider offers a single-tenant architecture, here are some additional questions to ask: