A robust multi-tenant SaaS architecture affects the full life cycle of a customer. It is not simply a technique to efficiently support multiple customers; it is much more than that. It allows a business to quickly bring prospects on-board, monitor how they are using the applications, convert them to paying customers, and efficiently bill and manage their subscriptions over time —hence, software as a service.

The wrong decision on custom build vs. buy can be costly, as the SaaS market is constantly changing with new competitors and solutions. Companies entering the market that are able to provide self-provisioning, free trials, rapid feature innovation, and insight on how their customers are using their applications have a distinct advantage in the market. In established SaaS markets, these advantages can be leveraged into taking market share away from incumbent providers. In new SaaS markets, these advantages can be leveraged by grabbing a “green field” share with a first-mover advantage, since time to market often plays a critical role in determining success.

The custom build approach requires building multi-tenancy into a SaaS application by weaving it into the application layer. Weaving in multi-tenancy throughout the application is a complex, error-prone and labor-intensive process. Besides, it only addresses the multi-customer component of a robust multi-tenant architecture.
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Developing a robust multi-tenant architecture from scratch is an order of magnitude more expensive and more time-consuming than plugging in a middleware solution. Not only is it more expensive and more time-consuming, in the end it may not be a differentiating factor. Multi-tenancy is a necessary component for an efficient and scalable SaaS business model, but a feature-rich application that is constantly evolving is where the differentiation comes in.
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Instead of weaving it in at the application level, the “buy” approach allows multi-tenancy to be plugged into an existing application without rewriting the application. This cleanly separates the application from the multi-tenancy component, similar to other middleware products such as relational databases and application servers.

A plug-in approach to multi-tenancy has significant business advantages:

Operational Capabilities—Operating and Managing a SaaS Business

A basic multi-tenant architecture gets a company into the game. But the SaaS battlefield is about the second “S,” service—getting customers on board quickly while enabling them to have a unique environment that meets their needs. A multi-tenant architecture that simply supports multiple customers on a single code base ultimately falls short of the target. The architecture must also support the ongoing operational activities of the business in an efficient manner.

When the decision is made to do a custom build of a multi-tenant architecture, it’s easy to overlook the time, effort and cost required to build and maintain capabilities to support operations such as per-tenant customizations, self-provisioning, billing, and subscription management.

Other key components such as self-provisioning, billing, management tools, security and scalability are often overlooked after weaving multi-tenancy throughout the application. The cost, time and risk to fully develop a robust multi-tenant solution are often grossly underestimated.
A plug-in approach to multi-tenancy reduces time to market, complexity, and cost by providing:

On-going Sustainability—Evolving and Growing a SaaS Business

Sustainability is largely about delivering a SaaS solution with the lowest possible cost structure. In order to do that, the two largest costs -- support/operations staff and infrastructure (hosting and bandwidth) -- must be managed effectively. The previous section discussed how the support and operations resources can be reduced with a plug-in approach to multi-tenancy.

As the SaaS market continues to grow, there will be increased competition and lower prices among the infrastructure providers for hosting and bandwidth. As a SaaS provider, the ability to take advantage of lower infrastructure costs will be a key element in profitability and sustainability. Any multi-tenant architecture, whether made or bought, must be easily portable across clouds to take advantage of declining competitive prices in a maturing infrastructure market. A competitive advantage is gained when the SaaS application can be moved easily and as frequently as necessary in order to take advantage of these declining infrastructure prices.

Deciding to do a custom build of a multi-tenant application is similar to the decision to build a relational database. Although it is possible to construct a set of basic relational data structures, much of the value comes in the form of the auxiliary tools for data loading, backup and performance monitoring. These tools allow more effective utilization of the underlying technology.

This is no different in the SaaS world. To manage a SaaS business effectively, you need a series of dashboards and tools that will allow you to see the key metrics of your SaaS business (usage, feature coverage, etc.). In a custom build approach, the development and maintenance of these tools is yet another cost and risk that must be considered.

A plug-in multi-tenancy approach provides these sustainability advantages:

About Larry Aiken

Director of Marketing at Corent Technology, Inc

Larry Aiken has over 25 years of experience in the high technology industry in the areas of engineering, sales and marketing. His focus has been on marketing in the areas of product marketing, product management and alliance management. He has held positions with leading high tech and consulting companies such as Motorola, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and Booz, Allen & Hamilton.

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About Corent Technology, Inc

Corent’s Multi-Tenant Server™ (MTS™) provides a smarter path to SaaS. It is a software “plug-in” that instantly transforms conventional software applications into robust multi-tenant SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions. Corent’s Smarter Platform for SaaS Transformation and Service Delivery not only helps clients avoid the time consuming and costly process of re-architecting their applications into SaaS, but provides them with a turnkey environment to deploy, operate, and manage their newly transformed SaaS solutions on any public, private or hybrid cloud with the technology stack of their choice while ensuring the lowest cost of service delivery.

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Cloudbook Journal
Vol 2 Issue 4, 2011

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Vol 2 Issue 4, 2011 of the
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