man working on multi-tenant vs. single-tenant systems

Digital transformation is accelerating rapidly, yet many businesses are still wondering how to proceed. For most, it will require a shift in thinking and operational activities. Succeeding in this transformation will require you to make critical choices surrounding more efficient workflows, data security, and profitability. One of the four pillars of digital transformation is IT uplift, which focuses on improving the IT infrastructure. Whether that means your company’s mobile infrastructure or cloud architecture, there are many considerations — especially when dealing with software applications. Multi-tenant and single-tenant systems may offer you a potential solution.

When leveraging the power of cloud computing, you’ll need to decide which type of architecture is the right solution for you. Your options are single- or multi-tenant systems, both of which have unique pros and cons. Factors influencing your decision will include cost, scalability, privacy, and efficiency. This guide provides a comprehensive breakdown of the two, so you can more easily determine which system is best for your business.

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Defining Multi-Tenant vs. Single-Tenant Systems

Software apps aim to serve customers or user groups. Each of these customers or groups is considered a tenant. In cloud computing, tenancy involves the exchange of resources in a public or private environment and is categorized into two architectures — single-tenant or multi-tenant systems. 

To compare multi- and single-tenant systems:

  • Single-tenant cloud architecture involves a single instance of a software application and database that serves only one customer. Customer data is separate from other customers and runs on dedicated infrastructure — there is no data sharing.
  • A multi-tenant architecture is when a single software instance and database serve several customers. The infrastructure is shared following a single software deployment, resulting in more efficient resource usage. 

To explain the differences between these two architectures, a real estate analogy is often used. Concerning single-tenant architecture, a person lives alone in a single-family home. This home has its own security and facilities, separated from surrounding buildings.

In contrast, multi-tenant architecture is more closely related to an apartment building. Multiple tenants live in individual units in the same building. The security system and facilities are shared, but each individual has a key to their personal space, and within that space, they enjoy privacy. However, since tenants are living among others, the activities of those tenants are more likely to influence one another. Like each unit within the apartment, individual data remains isolated and cannot be accessed by others.

For most software as a service (SaaS) applications, multi-tenant cloud architecture is generally the best option. However, comparing these two systems is important to ensure it’s the right fit for your business, particularly among those facing strict regulatory compliance requirements. 

The Pros and Cons of Each Architecture 

When deciding whether single-tenant or multi-tenant systems are the better choice, it will depend on your business. Consider all technical goals, challenges, opportunities, and use cases. You need to weigh the pros and cons of each, focusing on the setup that makes the most sense for you and your customers. Some benefits and disadvantages may weigh more heavily than others, so consider the following. 

The pros and cons of single-tenant cloud architecture

The benefits of choosing a single-tenant cloud system:

  • Optimal security as each customer’s data is isolated. This approach helps minimize the potential impact of a data breach.
  • Greater customization options because every single customer has dedicated hardware and software. 
  • Migrating data is easier as there is less of it compared to a multi-tenant environment.

Disadvantages include:

  • Higher cost because of the dedicated infrastructure — resources aren’t shared for deployment, monitoring, management, etc.
  • Setup and management are more complex, especially as your customer base grows. For this reason, a single-tenant environment is not typically recommended for startups. 
  • Inefficiency can result from underutilized resources. 

The pros and cons of multi-tenant cloud architecture

The benefits of choosing a multi-tenant cloud system:

  • Resources are often used to their maximum potential, as they are shared across several users. 
  • Lower costs since the customers share the environment, making this application cheaper to build and manage. Multi-tenancy can also provide a better ROI.
  • More deployable, especially for small teams. Choosing a single-tenant cloud architecture will require a lot more effort. In contrast, a multi-tenant architecture allows teams to leverage tools and solutions offered by the cloud services provider. This support allows for greater scalability. 

Disadvantages include:

  • Security risks can be higher because if one customer’s data is compromised, it will more likely affect others within the multi-tenant system. 
  • If there are issues surrounding hardware and software updates, this can affect all clients, and depending on the severity, downtime will impact all customers simultaneously.
  • Migration can be more challenging when a business wants to move to a self-hosted environment. 

Considering Integrations and APIs

When integrations are a high-priority consideration, multi-tenant solutions are ideal. This architecture offers more integrations than single-tenant systems because they are easily shared with customers via application programming interfaces (APIs). These APIs handle the heavy lifting of development. For example, if your business uses Salesforce, Okta, Microsoft Dynamics, etc., you can use these applications in conjunction with your new platform. These integrations enhance functionality and the visibility of your data. 

Considering only 30% of digital transformations worldwide are successful, now is the time to take advantage of application integration. This approach will help your business remain agile and competitive. Unsure where to begin? Check out these five essential APIs as you prepare for the year ahead and the long-term growth of your business. 

Diving Deeper Into Potential Use Cases

Whether building a software application or buying one, you must focus on your requirements. What are the most critical variables influencing your business? Do you require full control over operations within your multilayered business, or are you more concerned with cost optimization and quick onboarding?

Here are some of the use cases that may help sway your decision.

When building a software application

Consider single-tenant architecture if you:

  • Have an extensive team dedicated to deployment, management, maintenance, and support
  • Have a limited number of customers
  • Do not have budget restrictions
  • Want to provide exceptional performance
  • Don’t have a team of professional developers 

In contrast, opt for multi-tenancy if you:

  • Want to support a higher volume of customers in a cost-effective cloud environment
  • Prefer not having a large infrastructural footprint 
  • Have a large team for deployment, management, maintenance, and support 
  • Seek greater scalability 
  • Have access to a team of developers and architects 

When purchasing a software application

Consider single-tenant architecture if you:

  • Must adhere to a corporate policy that doesn’t allow resources or data to be shared 
  • Want to completely alter the product based on your goals and needs
  • Feel comfortable paying a much higher price for slightly better performance 

In contrast, opt for multi-tenancy if you:

  • Are not prohibited when it comes to data sharing 
  • Are happy with the product’s feature set and configurational customizations 
  • Seek a more optimal balance between cost and performance 

So, Which Is Better?

The answer to the question of which architecture is better comes down to what is important to you. Both options have pros and cons. However, in most scenarios, multi-tenancy is the better option. When implemented correctly, this architecture allows you to build a platform for the future that optimizes resources and makes for easier maintenance. 

As discussed above, a single tenancy system is often chosen because of security concerns. Some industries, such as financial and healthcare, have strict security guidelines to prevent issues resulting from SaaS environment vulnerabilities. In these cases, the enhanced security that comes with single-tenant systems is ideal and sometimes necessary. However, it’s crucial to remember that no system is 100% secure. 

If you do not need to adhere to these strict compliance guidelines, multi-tenant systems are likely your best bet. While this is often the go-to architecture for small businesses and startups, many large enterprises favor multi-tenancy. Even Amazon builds a strong case for multi-tenant architecture, particularly when “fairness” is implemented into the system. 

Recommended reading: What Is AWS? Modern Technology Fueling Digital Transformation

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