Why it’s time to move past the multi-tenant cloud model

This is a guest blogpost by Allan Leinwand, CTO, ServiceNow     

Cloud services first appeared in the late ‘90s when large companies needed a way to centralise computing, storage, and networking. Originally, cloud architecture was built on database systems designed for tracking customer service requests and running financial systems. For many years, companies like IBM, Oracle, and EMC grew and developed in this centralised ecosystem as they scaled their hardware to accommodate customer growth.

The problem is that while this approach worked for large enterprises, it didn’t really deliver a smooth experience for customers. This is because in a multi-tenant architecture customers must share the same software and infrastructure, while cloud providers only need to build and maintain a centralised system. Unfortunately, multi-tenant models are still the most widely used, preventing customers from having the experience they deserve.

The three major drawbacks of the multi-tenant model for customers are, in my view:

  • Time spent on maintenance and downtime

Multi-tenant architectures need large and complex databases that require hardware and software maintenance on a regular basis. This results in availability issues for customers, who must wait for maintenance works to be completed before they access the cloud again. Some departments, such as sales or marketing, can cope with downtime periods in less busy periods such as overnight. However, many other business critical enterprise applications need to be continually operational.

  • Commingled data makes it difficult to isolate your data from competitors’

In a multi-tenant environment, customers must rely on the cloud provider to isolate their data from everyone else’s. This means that customers and their competitors’ data could be stored all together in a single database. The problem with this approach is that the data is not physically separate. It relies on software for separation and isolation. This has major implications for government, healthcare and financial regulations, but even more so in the event of a security breach, as it could expose everyone’s data at once.

  • In the event of an outage everyone suffers

In a multi-tenant model, issues such as outages or upgrades will impact every tenant in the shared model. In other words, when software or hardware problems arise on a multi-tenant database, it causes an outage for all customers. So, if this model is applied to run enterprise–wide business services, entire organisations will be affected. Businesses cannot rely on this shared approach on applications that are critical to their success. Upgrades should be done on their own schedule, so that the business can plan for downtime. Similarly, other software and hardware issues need to be isolated and resolved quickly.

It is clear that these data isolation and availability challenges are not good enough in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape. Multi-tenancy is a legacy architecture that will not stand the test of time. To embrace and lead today’s technological innovations, companies need to move past the old model and look at more advanced cloud architectures.

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