If you're considering a new software as a service (SaaS) solution for your human services organization, you've probably come across this question: Single or multi-tenancy?
The two types of cloud architecture have different structures and offer various advantages and disadvantages for your human services organization. Whether your organization is a nonprofit, private enterprise, or public sector agency, you will want to familiarize yourself with these distinct structures as you consider the possibilities for SaaS.
Differences Between Single-Tenant and Multi-Tenant SaaS
At a basic level, the single-tenant architecture provides a single instance (piece) of software and its associated infrastructure to a single customer, whereas multi-tenant architecture serves multiple customers.
As their names suggest, the two types of tenancy in SaaS architecture may be compared to different housing arrangements. In a single-tenant arrangement, as in a single-family home, the customer owns the structure and everything in it. They are responsible for maintenance, repairs, and utilities, as well as more specialized requirements, such as security.
Single-tenancy SaaS architecture supports one platform user running a single platform codebase on their website. With single tenancy, each customer has their own separate database and instance of the software. No sharing among tenants occurs with this option, as there is only one tenant.
On the other hand, using multi-tenant software could be equated to living in an apartment building. Portions of the infrastructure are shared among tenants, yet each tenant has their own private "space." Compared to maintaining a house, renting an apartment comes with less cost and commitment, and includes ongoing services from providers.
Similarly, your SaaS server provider handles the maintenance and upgrade process so you don’t have to. With multi-tenancy, the single instance of the software's codebase is shared between multiple users. In multi-tenant SaaS, each tenant's individual data remains discrete, unseen, and secure from other tenants, but they all share:
- Web servers
- Infrastructure services
Let's take a closer look at how single-tenancy and multi-tenancy environments differ, and how these differences may impact your human services organization.
Single-tenant architecture usually allows the customer more resources than does multi-tenant. But, since they're all dedicated to one customer, those resources can carry a hefty price tag. In a multi-tenant setup, the cost for the service is shared, and those savings are typically passed on to the customer. Public sector agencies, private enterprises, and nonprofits often work within tight budget constraints, making multi-tenancy a sensible option for many different types of human services organizations.
Setup and Configuration
Compared to a multi-tenant setup, single-tenant software will often demand more time and effort from your organization. It consumes more resources during setup and ongoing maintenance, requiring some level of customization to be implemented. Multi-tenant SaaS, conversely, allows for quick setups and light management. Customers can add data, users, and third-party integrations with relative ease in the multi-tenant environment, which is configurable to your organization's specific needs.
Scalability and Efficiency
Since resources in a single-tenant cloud are dedicated to one tenant, utilization is generally less efficient than in a multi-tenant cloud. Scalability can be a challenge with single-tenancy also, as customers are often operating with fixed resources. With multi-tenant architecture, resources are balanced across customers, leading to greater overall efficiency. A multi-tenant system can shift computing resources where they're needed, keeping vendor costs low and resulting in a scalable solution for your human services organization.
Updates and Upgrades
Due to the nature of single-tenancy, updates and upgrades are rolled out individually for each customer in the single-tenant environment, requiring operating systems and runtime libraries to be updated as well. However, in a multi-tenant cloud, updates come automatically with your SaaS subscription, and upgrades go live instantly for all cloud tenants.
Although single-tenancy affords customers more control over what's included in their software, the additional control may also come with the need for an expensive development team or system integrator. By comparison, multi-tenant SaaS provides customers with ample customization abilities without the need for additional tech support.
In a single-tenant setup, the customer bears a great deal more responsibility for the security of their system than in a multi-tenant arrangement. As such, single-tenant clouds demand a greater degree of expertise from customers in the area of cybersecurity, and they may be subject to more vulnerability. With multi-tenancy, features like encryption, key management, role-based access control, and multi-factor authentication come standard with your subscription, making it a secure option for most organizations.
What Makes Sense for Your Organization?
With each type of SaaS architecture offering its own particular strengths and weaknesses, your choice will depend on the needs of your organization. If you're looking to maximize your organization's ability to customize its software and can handle responsibilities like maintenance and security, then you're probably willing to cover the added cost that single-tenancy demands. If your considerations extend to scalability, efficiency, and cost of investment, then multi-tenancy may be the more appropriate option.
Questions to ask your organization before choosing between single-tenant and multi-tenant SaaS include:
- What's our budget?
- How much control do we need over our applications?
- Do we have in-house security expertise?
- What regulatory compliance requirements do we have?
- How many users must we support?
Many human services organizations will find that multi-tenancy is the best choice for them, if for no other reason than cost. But several factors other than cost are likely contributing to the popularity of multi-tenant solutions among organizations of all kinds.
Ease of setup and configuration make multi-tenancy an attractive option for any organization that needs to scale quickly but lacks a savvy tech team. Another selling point of multi-tenancy is the expert, day-to-day service from server providers, which cuts back on your organization's need for technical know-how. Data sharing, as well, is a key consideration for human services organizations that may wish to take advantage of that valuable feature.
As your organization moves to the cloud, you'll have to consider the level of sophistication that it will need in a cloud environment. Before selecting the SaaS that your organization will adopt, you should be aware of the factors differentiating single-tenancy from multi-tenancy. After analyzing your organization's needs in terms of things like cost, configuration, scalability, and security, you will be in a better position to evaluate the differences and reach a decision for your human services organization.
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