In the Cloud: Multi-Tenant vs. Single Tenant ITSM
August 07, 2013
Kevin Smith
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THINKstrategies conducted a recent survey of 341 IT professionals around the world to determine how Cloud Computing alternatives are affecting the IT Service and Client Management needs of organizations.

Among the many interesting findings from this survey, one in particular stands out: nearly half of the survey respondents verify that their currently installed Service and Client Management solutions – that serve as the backbone of IT organizations – are 5+ years old. As a result, many of these aging systems are being evaluated for major upgrades and/or replacement.

While the vast majority of respondents are deploying on-premise Service and Client Management solutions, the tide is shifting to cloud-based implementations.

And this raises big questions about the pros and cons of multi-tenant vs. single tenant cloud architectures that are increasingly relied upon to deliver Service and Client Management solutions ranging from running help desks and change management requests, to incident response processes, service catalogs and, in some cases, ITIL best practices.

The Cons of Single Tenant Cloud Architectures

Let’s examine some distinct disadvantages of single tenant cloud architectures.

For starters, they can only scale out to support new customers in a linear fashion, which means the costs to upgrade individual clients are prohibitive. The downside of this approach is obvious: vendors pass on some of these upgrade costs to customers.

In addition, single-tenant architectures require each customer to maintain a unique software code base that results not only in substantially higher technical support costs but makes software implementations and upgrades much more difficult to deploy than multi-tenant architectures. This approach also limits the frequency of functional upgrades that often times are limited to release cycles once every 12 – 18 months.

Simply put, maintaining multiple versions of an application makes it harder for a Service and Client Management provider to support individual code releases. Why? Technical support staff must be familiar with a broader range of technical issues associated with each release. And junior technical service personnel will often require the assistance of more senior staff as they run across issues that are not familiar with. he typical end result is a significant increase in customer support requests that can create service backlogs. This in turn can erode customer satisfaction levels.

Another drawback of single tenant architectures is that each customer is provided with a dedicated server, which at first blush may appear to be an advantage. However, since data centers charge per server and per virtual machine, each time a customer is added to a single tenant solution, costs to the cloud provider increase. And a portion of those cost increases are, in turn, passed on to the customer.

The Pros of Multi-Tenant Cloud Architectures

On the other hand, cloud-based Service and Client Management solutions based on a multi-tenant architecture maximize organizational efficiency and cost-effectiveness because they operate on an economy-of-scale basis by eliminating the need to expand data center infrastructure linearly. This significantly reduces the overhead associated with providing IT services, and as a result, lowers the costs levied on customers.

In addition, multi-tenant solutions allow software updates to be rolled out to all customers simultaneously. This standardizes software versions utilized by customers. Because each customer maintains the same application and same software version ensured through consistently applied upgrades, they are beneficiaries of more stable software, fewer bug fixes and less disruption to service operations. By eliminating version control issues, support staff can more efficiently respond to maintenance issues resulting in fewer instances of customer service backlogs.

With a multi-tenant architecture, each new customer is put on the same database rather than individual servers, so a provider that offers a multi-tenant solution will lease far less data center equipment compared to a provider offering a single-tenant solution supporting a comparable number of customers. Since each customer does not require its own data center equipment in a multi-tenant environment, the cost of adding customers is fractional compared to a single tenant solution.

The “landlord” analogy helps draw a distinction between single tenant and multi-tenant cloud approaches. Imagine having 100 tenants and you, as landlord, have the option of servicing those tenants in separate homes spread across multiple neighborhoods or in a single high-rise building. The high-rise option is intuitively obvious since you only have to “pay rent” on a single property versus a hundred dwellings and maintenance staff and managers are onsite without having to be dispatched to disparate locations.

While supporters of single tenant architectures will point to perceived security advantages offered by running clients on dedicated servers that don’t “co-mingle” accounts, multi-tenant cloud security advances mitigate this argument.

To quote Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies and recognized expert in cloud computing, “Properly designed and administered multi-tenant services can also be even more secure than traditional on-premises product or past ASP arrangements, because the vendor maintains full control of access to its system. In the same way that individual condominium units can be built in a secure fashion with solid walls and strong locks in a shared community, multi-tenant cloud services can also be architected to partition user data and safeguard it against internal and external security threats.”

Like every important choice, there are tradeoffs to consider when making a commitment, especially when it comes to selecting the right cloud architecture. Given the accelerating adoption of cloud computing to support critical IT Service Management functions across organizational business units, there is no substitute for conducting thorough due diligence into the pros and cons of multi-tenant and single tenant cloud options.

ABOUT Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is responsible for the Cloud Business Unit, including all strategy; go to market and customer success activities for the growing portfolio of FrontRange Cloud applications. Smith has a deep understanding of the Service Management market, having previously been responsible for product management, product marketing and corporate marketing for all FrontRange product lines. Smith brings over 25 years of technical, management, and executive leadership experience in technology and software businesses.

Prior to FrontRange, Smith has held positions as VP of Solutions Management at Manugistics Inc., VP of Operations at Avyx Inc., as well as Flight Design Manager with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where he began his career in 1983.

Smith holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University and a Master of Science in Computer Science from the University of Houston.

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