If you have ever lived in an apartment, you know what it is like to be in a building that contains multiple tenants, or residents. The virtual equivalent of this real-world concept is multitenancy in cloud computing when one cloud server has multiple customers accessing the same computing resources while their personal data remain separate. In cloud computing specifically and software in general, multitenancy is a single software instance, or copy of a program that is running on a device, that multiple people have access to. The concept has changed how we use our physical devices, allowing access to programs and files on phones, tablets, and multiple computers.
What is Multitenancy in Cloud Computing?
In cloud computing, multitenancy means that multiple customers of a cloud vendor are using the same computing resources. Even though they share resources, cloud customers aren’t aware of each other, and their data is kept separate. Multitenancy is a crucial component of cloud computing; without it, cloud services would be far less practical. Multitenant architecture is a feature in many types of public cloud computing, including IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, containers, and serverless computing.
To understand multitenancy, think of how banking works. Multiple people can store their money in one bank, and their assets are completely separate even though they’re stored in the same place. Customers of the bank don’t interact with each other, don’t have access to other customers’ money, and aren’t even aware of each other. Similarly, in public cloud computing, customers of the cloud vendor use the same infrastructure – the same servers, typically – while still keeping their data and their business logic separate and secure.
The classic definition of multitenancy was a single software instance that served multiple users or tenants. However, in modern cloud computing, the term has taken on a broader meaning, referring to shared cloud infrastructure instead of just a shared software instance.
How multitenancy works
Why would you want a multitenancy model for cloud computing services? For one thing, cloud customers are not aware of each other. While you might hear your apartment neighbors in real life, you will not “hear” other tenants in the cloud. This means you are unlikely to experience slowdowns or service interruptions simply because others share the server that you are on. Multitenancy is what makes cloud computing a viable concept. Cloud computing works for most people because companies no longer need to maintain their physical servers. Someone does that for them off-site. But if a cloud computing company had to house one server for every customer, there would not be enough physical room for all the boxes. Multi-tenant cloud computing is based on software as a service, or SaaS. One person has one copy of a piece of software and puts it on their computer. They then grant access to this software to other users, usually as a business or service. Each user’s information remains isolated from other users, even though they use the same program. Cloud computing pivots users to platforms as a service or PaaS.
Why do you need Multitenancy in Cloud Computing?
From fintech startups providing instant invoice financing to global streaming services generating personalized viewing recommendations, companies in every industry rely on data for vastly different purposes. But regardless of the use case, these organizations depend upon many of the same innovative cloud technologies to operationalize their data. Multitenancy fundamentally makes cloud computing far more practical by enabling cloud data platforms to offer the same resources to any number of customers, without having to build applications from scratch or risk exposing sensitive data.
As SaaS-based applications continue to grow in popularity, multi-tenant architectures mean vendors no longer have to make system updates for each individual customer, but rather can cover all of their users at once. Multitenancy also creates greater flexibility, so cloud data platforms can meet the needs of every organization, from the smallest business to the largest enterprise. Vendors can scale their offerings up or down as needed to suit each customer’s individual computing requirements, which in turn increases the platform’s perceived value to the end users.
Multitenancy also works within cloud platforms by improving secure data accessibility and sharing. With a system in place that supports multitenancy through dynamic data access control, users can access and share the same data sets but only see the components of the data that they’re authorized to. Instead of having to copy data and manually redact the portions that are sensitive or should be restricted, segmenting data for multitenancy preserves the original data set and maintains a single source of truth, without inefficient processes or unmanageable data copies.
Finally, one-to-one data use agreements and regulations, like GDPR and HIPAA, often dictate who can access what data and for what purposes. Consequently, organizations have to ensure that they’re segmenting data according to approved purposes. Segmenting for multi-tenancy with purpose-based restrictions and dynamic data masking helps ensure organizations maintain regulatory compliance.
What are the benefits of multitenancy?
Many of the benefits of cloud computing are only possible because of multitenancy. Here are two crucial ways multitenancy improves cloud computing:
- Better use of resources. One machine reserved for one tenant isn’t efficient, as that one tenant is not likely to use all of the machine’s computing power. By sharing machines among multiple tenants, the use of available resources is maximized.
- Lower costs. With multiple customers sharing resources, a cloud vendor can offer their services to many customers at a much lower cost than if each customer required their dedicated infrastructure.
- It’s easily scalable. Building off of the advantage of cost-effectiveness, this advantage means customers can add or remove resources as needed. This flexibility is perfect for organizations that are growing fast but unpredictably.
- It’s secure and offers more privacy. While it’s true that a single tenancy is more secure, multitenancy is nevertheless still good at threat detection and keeping tenants’ resources separate from each other.
What Are the Disadvantages of Multitenancy in Cloud Computing?
Although multitenancy offers some benefits, it also has disadvantages that users have to put up with. Check them out below.
- Security risks: When the cloud host suffers a cyber attack, the tenant’s data is also exposed to threats. Data security hugely relies on the cloud service provider.
- Response time issues: Because of the number of users accessing the same server simultaneously, they may experience a slowdown in processing. That usually happens during hardware and software maintenance.
- Less flexibility: Applications shared with multiple users may not be as flexible as those in single-tenant architectures.
Multitenancy is the core tenet of cloud computing. While multitenancy takes forward some of the concepts of mainframe computing to the x86 server ecosystems, its ongoing efforts to scale up these mainframe concepts to support thousands of intra- and inter-enterprise tenants (not users) are complex, commendable, and quite revolutionary. It’s only when the required degree of multitenancy is incorporated into all the layers of public clouds and private clouds that the promises of improved scalability, agility, and economies of scale can be fully delivered.