One gets the impression that hype-hunting has now become a sport in these teams. In engineering-centric companies it’s a badge of honor to find out just how multitenant a cloud-based application or platform is. Multitenancy isn’t the only area they are looking at, but given the massive amount of hype surrounding this issue on the part of vendors, it generates more attention because evaluation teams are skeptical.
Teams evaluating CRM applications aren’t satisfied with an easily customized and used graphical interface or series of workflows, they are getting more interested in the architecture itself . In some cases they’ve been burned by claims of an application being SaaS-based when in fact the architecture is a glorified series of Citrix-like sessions running in the background or worse. I have seen a healthy amount of skepticism in the evaluations going on right now and recently completed of SaaS applications and entire cloud platforms. Gartner’s inquiry calls from corporate accounts must be accelerating as their clients look for guidance on how to sort out the multitenancy hype.
CRM, Multitenancy and the Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing
Gartner’s search analytics show that cloud computing and related terms had 29,998 searches in the last twelve months with cloud computing alone generating 10,062 searches. SaaS and related terms had a search volume of 19,000. These terms are among the most popular across all Gartner search terms for the last twelve months. In comparison, CRM had over 42,000 searches in the same period.
It’s in this area of CRM applications where multitenancy has gone into hype overdrive. Looking for differentiators, some CRM vendors are claiming not just multitenancy – but their specific brand of it. This confuses their prospects, which immediately energizes evaluation teams to do a more thorough job than they have ever done before. By claiming their own type of multitenancy, CRM vendors are ironically not just slowing down their own sales cycles, they are making the entire industry slow down. No wonder Gartner places multitenancy along the Peak of Inflated Expectations in the latest Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing which is shown below.
Making Sense of Elasticity and Multitenancy
It’s paradoxical that enterprise software vendors, especially those selling SaaS-based CRM applications, are attempting to turn multitenancy into a differentiator. What is needed is a greater focus on usability, flexibility in aligning workflows to specific needs, and better enterprise integration technologies. Sell the value not the product features.
Given the confusion differentiating on multitenancy is creating and the calls Gartner is getting on this issue, they published Gartner Reference Model for Elasticity and Multitenancy. It includes what Gartner believes a cloud services provider must implement in terms of a multitenant service in addition to what SaaS-based applications need to provide. Here are their checklists for each area:
Multitenancy Service Requirements for Cloud Services Providers
- Isolation of tenant data
- Isolation of the tenant workspace (memory)
- Isolation of tenant execution characteristics (performance and availability)
- Tenant-aware security, monitoring, management, reporting and self-service administration
- Isolation of tenant customizations and extensions to business logic
- Continuous, tenant-aware version control
- Tenant-aware error tracking and recovery
- Tracking and recording of resources use per tenant
- The ability to allocate resources to tenants dynamically, as needed and based on policy Horizontal scalability to support real-time addition/removal of tenant resources, tenants or users without interruptions to the running environment
Multitenancy in Cloud Application Services (Software as a Service) Applications
- Be available 24/7, because of the potential global user base
- Adopt new versions without disrupting the continuous operations of tenants, and preserve user customizations
- Scale up or down on demand
- Allow individual rollback and restore for each tenant
- Not allow a “noisy neighbor” tenant to affect the performance of other tenants, or increase their costs
- Be accessible from various locations, devices and software architectures to meet potentially global demand
- Offer tenant-aware self-service
Gartner also released their Reference Architecture for Multitenancy, which is shown below. One of the key assumptions of this model is that multitenancy is a mode of operation where multiple, independent and secured instances of applications run in a shared environment. The model includes the seven different models of multitenancy Gartner has seen in their research. These seven models, listed across the top of the model beginning with Shared Nothing and progressing to Custom Multitenancy are across the top of the model.
The majority of enterprises I’ve worked with are looking to the Shared Hardware approach in an attempt to create backward compatibility to their legacy applications via Virtual Machines. Another area of interest is the Shared Container approach which relies on a separate logical or physical instance of a DBMS, and often isolates its own business logic. This is ideal for distributed order management systems and SaaS-based ERP systems for example. Yet the legacy application support in this type of multitenancy can get expensive fast.
Shared Everything Multitenancy is ideal for quickly on-ramping and off-ramping applications, tenants and individual system users and is what nearly all enterprise vendors claim to do. In reality only a handful do this well. This approach to multitenancy is based on the Shared Container approach including support for shared DBMS sessions. Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform, VMWare WaveMaker and Zoho Creator are all examples of companies who have successfully delivered Shared Everything multitenancy.
With so much to gain by positioning an application or solution suite in the 6th and 7th models, vendors are rushing to define their own versions of Shared Everything and Custom Multitenancy. The land grab is on in this area of the multitenancy market right now. IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are all expected to endorse and eventually have many of their cloud-based applications in the Shared Everything model. Each of these companies and many others will have a multi-model based approach to selling multitenancy as well.
Gartner Reference Model for Elasticity and Multitenancy
Bottom line: Enterprise software vendors can accelerate evaluation cycles and sell more by differentiating on the user experience and value delivered instead of trying to create fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) by creating their own definition of multitenancy.