Single vs Multi Tenancy Software: What it means. And why it matters.

Posted by Bruno Cozzi on 09/05/2018

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Multi-tenant software solutions are being touted as the newest best thing you have to have, the latest and greatest in cloud solutions - but what is single vs multi tenancy software, and does it really matter? 

Let’s start with ‘what it means?’

Multi-tenancy

Multiple customers share the same website, database and web services. Each customer is a ‘Tenant’ who subscribes to (rents) access to the software. The vendor separates tenant's data using a Customer Id field in the shared database, in much the same way that an apartment number would be used in a large apartment block. Just as tenants share resources like laundry facilities, lifts and stairs, parking lots, garbage bays, access ways, etc. so too do multi-tenants in a software application.

Single Tenancy

In a single tenancy arrangement each customer subscribes to a dedicated instance of the software, a unique database and unique set of web services. This would be similar to renting a house. The tenant would have own garage, laundry, garden, pedestrian and vehicle access.

Why we recommend single tenancy software for whole of business applications

The parallels between residential property and cloud software tenancy continue. You may enjoy apartment living and be happy to accept the limitations of sharing resources. Perhaps you don’t need the flexibility to paint walls your colour or change the driveway. You may also be happy with the decisions made for you by the strata committee or the body corporate. But what about security? Are you comfortable that the tenant below you might fall asleep with a lit cigarette and set the entire block on fire? 

The table below provides a comparison of single vs multi tenancy software.

Criteria

Single Tenant Software

Multi-Tenant Software

Flexibility: Ability to adapt the software to customer needs.

Is Flexible: Usually not a problem. You may have to pay or the vendor might include your request in a roadmap since other tenants desire it.

Is Not Flexible: Much more difficult. Vendor has to agree that the change is in its best interest and in the interest of other tenants.

Security: Ability to limit access to customer’s data.

Inherently more secure: Databases are unique to each customer, there’s little chance of Customer A’s data being accessed by Customer B.

Vendor Dependent: Relies on the vendor to implement good security and data separation policies and procedures. Continuing battle to outsmart hackers.

Performance: Speed and reliability with which pages load and data can be accessed.

Customer Specific: Assuming optimised design, the individual customer’s needs and data requirements determine how quickly data is processed.

Dictated by Biggest Customer: Any single customer’s performance is impacted by all the other customer’s data and business logic.

Backup and Recovery: Ability to backup customer data and when necessary, recover it.

Easy: This is easy since the one database and software application can be backed up using standard backup and recovery tools.

Not so easy: the customers data first needs to be identified and separated

Host Migration: Ability to move customer data from one hosting server platform to another.

Easy: The data and application backups can be restored on another cloud or on-premise server.

Difficult and Expensive: The customer data must first be separated from other customer data and an application must be provided separately.

Updates and Patches: Ability to improve and update the software over time.

Fast, Easy and Flexible: Hotfixes and planned updates can be applied easily in a timeframe that suits the customer, because they only impact one tenant.

Must Wait Till Next Release: Customer changes (if allowed) impact all tenants and must therefore wait for the next software release.

Price: The total cost the customer pays for the software.

Cost Effective if the vendor uses efficient server resources, infrastructure software and auto deployment services. Otherwise customer may have to pay more for flexibility and independence. There’s also more scope to negotiate between a single customer and a vendor.

Should be either more cost effective or higher value. The vendor may reduce cost to customers or re-invest profits in delivering greater value. This varies significantly and depends on vendor policies.


If we were to compare the pros and cons of single vs multi tenancy software arrangements we’d have to conclude that from a customer’s perspective there’s only one potential advantage of a multi-tenant solution. That is ‘price’. And even the subscription price is determined by the vendor and his policies.  

To be fair, there is perhaps one other important advantage to some. If you really are happy with the vendor's offer, the security and backup arrangements, and their tools really do help your business then you may not want the hassle of specifying and customising changes and enhancements.

In summary

With all the above justifications for single tenancy set aside, there’s no doubt that there are many good multi-tenant applications available to you. To name a few: Microsoft Office 365, Hubspot, Salesforce, MailChimp, Google Drive and LinkedIn. These are all excellent examples of where good software aims to offer cost-effective well designed tools to business. And we emphasis the word 'tools' as opposed to software systems that try to run your business by trying to apply cookie-cutter business process that would require you to operate like your competitors and strip you of any unique competitive advantage and innovation that you may otherwise have had.

Since we operate in the Student and Learning Management System arena, I’m talking here about software solutions that prescribe most, if not ALL your business processes for you:

  • Your organisation website and marketing
  • Your course catalogues and how they’re presented
  • The way you manage students and training records,
  • How you create and schedule courses,
  • How you enrol learners and accept payments,
  • How you assess and result students,
  • How you issue certificates,  
  • How you provide what current and post training support services
  • How you engage learners and employers
  • How you create, distribute and access reports
  • How and when you comply with regulations and standards.

Let’s be real. Any software vendor who dictates all of these processes for you in a shared multi-tenant environment that you can’t impact has to be (a) better at your job than you are, and (b) depriving you of delivering each of these steps in the way that you think is best for your business and your clients.

That, together with the points highlighted in the table are the reasons Bluegem only offers flexible single-tenant systems.

Read up on our blog 'Choosing a Training Management System (TMS)' for our best tips to choose the right TMS for your company. 

TOPICS Industry Insider

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