Multi-tenant architecture

Multi-tenant architecture- what is?

Multi-tenant architecture comes with several benefits. Multi-tenancy or Multi-tenant architecture is an architecture where multiple tenants share the same physical instance of the application. Cloud providers use multi-tenancy to manage multiple customers on the same infrastructure, and this is the basis for the economic benefits and elasticity of the public cloud. Microsoft Office 365 is a great example of a multi-tenant SaaS application. With Microsoft 365, Microsoft manages the infrastructure and software, which includes popular applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as email and collaboration tools like Outlook and Teams. By using multi-tenancy, Microsoft can provide these services to a large number of customers simultaneously, without having to dedicate a separate instance of the software to each customer. This means that we as customers benefit from this Multi-tenant architecture, since we are able to access these services on-demand and only pay for what we use, without having to invest in and maintain our own IT infrastructure.

In some cases, companies would need to develop a custom-built software application to meet their specific business needs. For example, a financial institution may develop their own software application to manage their banking transactions, instead of using an off-the-shelf software package. This custom-built software would be tailored to the specific needs of the particular company, including their unique processes, workflows, and data requirements and be shared across different tenants in the company or also outside the company with business partners. Developing custom software for each tenant would be expensive and time-consuming, so allowing multiple tenants to share the same instance of the application would be greatly beneficial in such cases.

Benefits of Multi-tenant architecture

First, it can reduce costs by allowing multiple users across different tenants to share the same instance of the application rather than each tenant having to develop and maintain its own instance. Second, it’s a better use of resources. Let’s take the example of a storage account. In a non multi-tenant architecture, each customer would have their own dedicated storage account, which would require a separate set of hardware resources and administrative overhead. This would not only increase the cost of the infrastructure but also require additional maintenance and monitoring efforts. On the other hand, with a multi-tenancy, multiple customers can share the same storage account, which reduces the hardware requirements and administrative overhead. Each customer’s data is logically separated from other customers’ data using access control mechanisms, and the storage account provider ensures the security and isolation of the data. Finally, it’s easily scalable whereby users can add or remove resources as needed. This flexibility is especially beneficial for organizations that are growing.

Though multi tenant applications have a number of advantages, there are also some challenges associated with these applications.

Challenges associated with Multi-tenant architecture

Authentication: Building a multi-tenant application comes with its unique challenges, and managing user identities is undoubtedly one of the most critical ones. When it comes to Multi-tenant architecture, user management needs to be done in the context of their tenants. Each user must have credentials provided by their own organization/tenant. They should only be able to access their own data, and not other tenants’ data. Organizations can register applications and assign specific application roles to their members. So, what does the authentication process look like? Users log in to the application using their existing organizational credentials, typically through single sign-on (SSO), to avoid creating a new user profile for the multi-tenant application. When a user logs in, the application identifies the relevant tenant and provides access to it.

Authorization: This is another critical aspect of multi-tenant applications. Your application must consider the user’s tenant when authorizing requests, ensuring that the user has access to the requested resource based on their tenant. Additionally, users can have assigned roles in the application, such as standard user or administrator. However, the customer organization, not the SaaS provider, should manage these role assignments.

Higher Security risks: Using a single service principal across multiple tenants increases the risk of security breaches. Unlike single-tenant architecture, where security events are isolated to a single customer, multi-tenant architecture doesn’t provide this level of isolation. This is because multiple tenants share resources, which means that a security event impacting one tenant may harm other customers. For example, if one tenant is compromised, any information hosted on shared databases may be exposed, putting all data at risk.  Another challenge of multi-tenancy is resource contention. Since tenants share resources, they also share the load. This means that if one customer suddenly increases the load, it impacts other tenants sharing the same resource. This can result in slower performance or even downtime for other tenants, causing frustration and potential business impact. To mitigate these challenges, it’s important to  implement proper security measures such as access control, and monitoring. Additionally, it’s essential to have a disaster recovery plan in place to respond quickly to any security incidents and minimize their impact.

How to Improve Security for your Multi-tenant architecture

Retire Inactive applications

In a multi-tenant architecture, a single instance of the application is deployed to serve multiple tenants, or users, each of whom has their own set of data and configuration settings. This poses a higher risk compared to single tenant applications.

  • Security Risks: Inactive applications may still have access to sensitive data and may not be updated with the latest security patches or software updates. This could leave them vulnerable to exploitation or data breaches.
  • Compliance Risks: If the inactive application is subject to regulatory compliance requirements, such as GDPR, it could result in non-compliance and potential compliance issues.
  • Complexity: Deploying a single instance of an application or database to serve multiple tenants/users increases the level of complexity involved in maintaining the code base and database.
  • Cost Risks: Inactive applications can continue to consume resources such as server space, licenses, and maintenance costs, even though they are not being used. This can result in unnecessary expenses.
  • Data Integrity Risks: Inactive applications may not be maintained, which could lead to data corruption, loss or inconsistency. This could result in poor data quality and decreased productivity.

To mitigate these risks, it is important to regularly conduct access reviews and assess your application portfolio, and take appropriate actions to retire, replace or upgrade inactive applications as needed. This will help minimize potential risks related with dormant applications.

Centralize Management of Privileges

Centralized management of privileges is important for multi-tenant applications as it ensures that tenants only have authorized access to resources and data. In a multi-tenant architecture, a single instance of an application is shared by multiple tenants. Without centralized management, access control can become inconsistent, leading to data breaches, security vulnerabilities, and compliance issues. Centralized management makes it easier to manage user roles and permissions and simplifies the process of granting or revoking access to resources and data across all tenants.

Introduce Cloud Governance and visibility

Introducing cloud governance and compliance for multi-tenant applications can help you better manage and secure your cloud environment. Here are some reasons why:

  • Visibility: With cloud governance and account discovery, we can gain greater visibility into our cloud environment, including the number of accounts and resources being used. This can help to identify potential security risks, such as unauthorized access or misuse of resources.
  • Compliance: Cloud governance and account discovery can help us ensure that we follow industry standards and regulations such as GDPR. It can also help to enforce security policies and procedures across all accounts and resources.
  • Cost Management: By gaining visibility into their cloud environment, we can identify and eliminate unused resources, optimize usage, and reduce overall costs. Cloud governance can also help us to prevent unexpected expenses, such as unused accounts or resources that continue to incur charges.
  • Risk Management: Introducing cloud governance and account discovery can help us to identify and manage risks associated with multi-tenant applications. This includes monitoring for security threats, ensuring data privacy, and mitigating risks associated with third-party vendors.

In conclusion, multi-tenant architecture can be an efficient and cost-effective way to host applications, but it comes with its unique set of challenges. Proper security measures and cloud governance are necessary to mitigate these risks and ensure a seamless user experience for all users across tenants.




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