Cloud PLM: what do you need to know about multitenancy

Multitenancy. You may ask me why I want to spend this Sunday morning talking about multitenancy. Well… two words – important and confusing. Now, with the announcement of Autodesk PLM 360, I expect conversations about multitenancy to happen more often and even create some turbulence during pre-sales cycles. So, let me step back and try Wikipedia link. Here is the definition:

Multitenancy refers to a principle in software architecture where a single instance of the software runs on a server, serving multiple client organizations (tenants). Multitenancy is contrasted with a multi-instance architecture where separate software instances (or hardware systems) are set up for different client organizations. With a multitenant architecture, a software application is designed to virtually partition its data and configuration, and each client organization works with a customized virtual application instance. Multitenancy is also regarded as one of the essential attributes of Cloud Computing.[1]

History

The history of multitenancy goes to few computing paradigms we had in the past – time sharing and ASP (application service provider). Time sharing was very popular on mainframe (this is why many people consider mainframes as one of the technological roots of cloud computing). ASP concept when another company “hosted” product for customers is another early example service that influenced the current state of multitenancy.

Economic and Multitenancy

I’d like to start from the economic of multitenancy. Thinking about cloud software, multitenancy creates fundamentals for resource sharing. As a result, you can make the operational cost lower. It increases the ability to compete and provide more attractive price point for services. Hosting without multitenancy won’t provide such an advantage, since you will have to host server per customer. It obviously can bring an advantage of scale economy, but even so won’t be on the same level as multitenancy.

Technology, Complexity and Examples

The majority of enterprise applications developed during the last two decades were a single tenant. The target was “client-server” environment and data center. Even applications developed with “web architecture in mind” assumed database and application server dedicated to a customer. Multitenancy requires significant changes in architecture. Some of the enterprise software providers started to move their platform towards multitenancy. The majority of knowledge about development of multitenancy came from public web sites and SaaS application providers. The most famous example is salesforce.com. The architecture of salesforce.com assumes full multitenancy also on application and data level. If you want to deep your knowledge about how Salesforce platform designed, navigate to few available youtuble videos. Few slides below can give you high level view of Salesforce vision of multitenancy.

Salesforce view on waste of multi-tenancy

Salesforce.com -multitenancy advantages

Salesforce high-level multitenant architecture

I can recommend you another interesting article about multitenancy from Microsoft. Navigate to the following link -Multi-Tenant Data Architecture. The document is relatively old 2006), but provides some interesting illustration about how multitenancy and data architecture can be designed. Take a look on the following picture illustrates Three Approaches to Managing Multi-Tenant Data:

Multitenancy and data architecture (source: MSDN)

There are obvious pros and cons in different solutions. Multitenancy has obvious advantages mentioned above. However, complexity and cost of development of a multitenant solution are higher than a single tenant alternative.

What is my conclusion? In my view, we are going to hear more about multitenancy. Cloud is disruptive. At the time, vendors are going to own servers and provide services, multitenancy will become one of the factors to improve profitability and decrease operational cost. At the same time, marketing will continue to use “buzzwords” to win a social marketing and pre-sale game. If you are a customer shopping for your first cloud solution, you better get yourself a bit educated about the topic of multitenancy. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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5 Responses to Cloud PLM: what do you need to know about multitenancy

  1. Dave Ault says:

    Hi Oleg,
    I guess the two words that come to my mind are insecure and undetermined. We know no company will stand behind cloud products with iron clad indemnity for user losses and we see no information about total cost of doing business on the cloud. Is it not a little strange that these things are not spelled out for us? A first real good step towards making the cloud mainstream and palatable would be honesty from these companies that want us to go there.

  2. Hi Oleg,

    I have been reading your posts on cloud based PLM and specifically Autodesk PLM 360 for some time now.

    I have implemented PLM systems for small, medium and Fortune 500 customers for more than a decade now. None of the PLM systems ever run in isolation – they are connected to a whole bunch of other enterprise systems from corporate LDAP’s to MES/MRP and ERP systems. PLM vendors typically provide “adapters”/middleware for their PLM systems to talk to a few “standard” enterprise systems, but if you need to integrate with a “non-standard” enterprise application you have to write your own custom code.

    In a multitenancy environment, each customer will need their PLM system to talk to a whole bunch of other corporate systems. If you add different versions of such standard/non-standard software to the mix the complexity can be mind boggling. I am not sure how Autodesk plans to address this. I did some reading in their website but didn’t find any information.

    What is your view on this?

    Thanks,
    Jyotirmoy

  3. Dave, I think the company’s responsibility is to provide information and disclose terms of services. Every cloud provider these days is doing that. So, what do you expect to see there that will convince “a company” to start using cloud services? Btw, I understand, that public cloud service will not be acceptable for all companies, and some of them will be interested in “private clouds”. At the same time, some of companies will continue to work with solutions deployed on the premises. Cloud adoption will take time. This is just a matter of time, cost and education. Similar to what happened with the internet since first attempts to sell online back in 1990s.. Thanks for your comment. Oleg

  4. Jyotirmoy, thanks for your comment and question. Actually, you are asking one of the most important questions today related to the “cloud PLM”, in general and Autodesk PLM 360 specifically. This is my opinion about that. The urgency of integration between cloud PLM and other systems and data on premises will be growing and, at the end, this is probably will make PLM 360 (and other cloud PLMs) successful. Cloud system won’t be able to operate in isolation – you’re absolutely right.

    You probably can read the following post (maybe did it already)

    PDM/PLM evolution final step and cloud/on-premises integration.
    http://beyondplm.com/2012/02/10/pdmplm-evolution-final-step-and-cloud-on-premises-integration/

    In addition to that, I’d like to reference Inforbix blog (disclosure- Inforbix is a company I founded 2 years ago). One of the elements of Inforbix cloud technology for product data is the ability to connect on premises and cloud data islands. It can be useful in the situations you described.

    Inforbix, AutoCAD WS, Cloud / On-Premises connection.
    http://www.inforbix.com/inforbix-autocad-ws-and-cloudon-premises-connections/

    Product Data on premises and on-cloud: does it fit together?
    http://www.inforbix.com/product-data-on-premises-and-on-cloud-does-it-fit-together/

    Best, Oleg

  5. mining machine…

    [...]Cloud PLM: what do you need to know about multitenancy « Daily PLM Think Tank Blog[...]…

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