What Makes BI SaaS Architecture Multitenant?

Boris Evelson By Boris Evelson

I'd like to drill into some more details on my BI SaaS blog from September 2009. A key critical point to "what differentiates one BI SaaS vendor from another" discussion is what really constitutes multi-tenant architecture. Here are some initiall thoughts to stimulate the discussion:

  • DBMS. There's got to be back end, DBMS architecture that allows for one of the following:
    • Automatically generate a separate DBMS instance for each client  
    • Use same DBMS instance for multiple clients, but automatically generate a set of unique tables for each client  
    • Use same DBMS instance and tables for multiple clients, but automatically assign unique keys to to each client so that they can only update and retrieve their own rows  
  • Application. Similar functionality has to exist in the application tier:
    • Automatically connect to the appropriate, client specific DBMS instance, or 
    • Automatically use views that only point to client specific tables, or
    • Append "where" clause to each SQL statement to only retrieve client specific rows  
  • Provisioning. All of the above functionality has to be automatically executed at a push of a button, a swipe of a credit card, with zero involvement from vendor support staff or internal IT organization.

I believe that these features truly differentiate self service BI SaaS from hosting, virtualization, private clouds, etc, that some vendors are also trying to position as BI SaaS. All these other services and architectures are important, relevant and applicable to multiple situations and requirements, but they are not BI SaaS IMHO. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on what else is relevant here.


re: What Makes BI SaaS Architecture Multitenant?

Clear and useful, as usual. Would make a great drawing.

re: What Makes BI SaaS Architecture Multitenant?

Hi Boris,

Interesting topic. I would add 1 thing to your list which is that resource usage of one user community should not affect other user communities (e.g. heavy use from one community should not slow response for others). For each user community, the system should APPEAR to be theirs and theirs only.

On a different topic entirely, one of the significant driving forces behind multitenant systems is cost for the provider. The idea of amortising all the overhead costs across multiple communities is attractive (and one way to make sure low cost colud services still make the provider a profit). The provider has to be careful that things like generating additional DBMS instances do not incur DBMS license increases...

re: What Makes BI SaaS Architecture Multitenant?

For SaaS vendors, I think that multi-tenancy tends to be more important from an economic viability standpoint, than a BI differentiator. I've spoken with a few SaaS vendors that point out that it's too resource intensive, and costly, to set up a different instance for each customer.

It's interesting that you indicate that cloud vendors are selling themselves as SaaS. Thus far, it seems to have been the reverse.

re: What Makes BI SaaS Architecture Multitenant?

Good summary of key points to follow. I wanted to add that along with the ability to generate unique set of tables for each client; is the additional ability to support a flexible data model that support client defined extensions as well.

re: What Makes BI SaaS Architecture Multitenant?

Boris, I feel you've nailed it in a pretty straightforward way. I think the key here is how fast and easy it gets to rent apartments out :)In either case all the layers you mention must collaborate to enable the "flick of a switch" on-boarding you describe. And the process has to be dirt cheap for the provider as well.These are often misunderstood concepts - especially by vendors who tend to have found religion in SaaS rather recently :)Best,J.

re: What Makes BI SaaS Architecture Multitenant?

Good points.I feel that the real challenge for SaaS BI providers is the heavy queries load distribution on top of a multi tenant architecture.Disclaimer: I am one of them as I am one of the founders of Bime ( http://businessintelligence.me ) .Regards,N.