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What Is Multi-Tenancy? An Overview for Cloud Computing

As cloud infrastructures, SaaS deployment models, and data sharing become increasingly prevalent, multi-tenant architectures help ensure cloud-based workloads can be executed securely and efficiently. Multi-tenancy allows multiple user groups, or tenants, to access the same software, hardware, data storage, and other computing resources while operating out of a shared environment, but ensures that each tenant’s data remains isolated and invisible to other users.

Multi-tenancy can be thought of like the residents in an apartment building – although they share the same plumbing, they each use their own water every time they take a shower.

These days, multi-tenancy is a fundamental part of cloud computing that drives efficiency and cost savings by giving multiple parties access to the same cloud infrastructure. And it’s ubiquitous — every software-as-a-service (SaaS) business is an example of multi-tenancy in action.

In this blog, we look at why multi-tenancy is necessary in cloud computing, the benefits it offers, and best practices for implementing it in cloud computing environments.

Why Do You Need Multi-Tenancy in Cloud Computing?

From fintech startups providing instant invoice financing to global streaming services generating personalized viewing recommendations, companies in every industry rely on data for vastly different purposes. But regardless of use case, these organizations depend upon many of the same innovative cloud technologies to operationalize their data. Multi-tenancy fundamentally makes cloud computing far more practical by enabling cloud data platforms to offer the same resources to any number of customers, without having to build applications from scratch or risk exposing sensitive data.

As SaaS-based applications continue to grow in popularity, multi-tenant architectures mean vendors no longer have to make system updates for each individual customer, but rather can cover all of their users at once. Multi-tenancy also creates greater flexibility, so cloud data platforms can meet the needs of every organization, from the smallest business to the largest enterprise. Vendors can scale their offerings up or down as needed to suit each customer’s individual computing requirements, which in turn increases the platform’s perceived value to the end users.

Multi-tenancy also works within cloud platforms by improving secure data accessibility and sharing. With a system in place that supports multi-tenancy through dynamic data access control, users are able to access and share the same data sets but only see the components of the data that they’re authorized to. Instead of having to copy data and manually redact the portions that are sensitive or should be restricted, segmenting data for multi-tenancy preserves the original data set and maintains a single source of truth, without inefficient processes or unmanageable data copies.

Finally, one-to-one data use agreements and regulations, like GDPR and HIPAA, often dictate who can access what data and for what purposes. Consequently, organizations have to ensure that they’re segmenting data according to approved purposes. Segmenting for multi-tenancy with purpose-based restrictions and dynamic data masking helps ensure organizations maintain regulatory compliance.

The Benefits of Multi-Tenancy

Now that we have an understanding of what multi-tenancy is and why it’s necessary in cloud computing, let’s consider some of its key benefits:

  • Cost savings. Just as sharing an Uber with other riders is cheaper than ordering one on your own, sharing computing resources with others is far more cost-effective than running single tenant hardware or software. One of the biggest benefits of multi-tenancy is that it enables the efficient consolidation and allocation of IT resources. That saves money for customers and vendors alike, by requiring less infrastructure procurement upfront.
  • Increased efficiency. Multi-tenancy allows for better, more efficient use of data platform infrastructure and other resources. For end users, it reduces the need to self-manage software deployments, including updates and maintenance. Platform providers fully manage these services, so users can focus on their core business and data objectives.
  • Self-service data access. Multi-tenancy also saves users from having to make copies of data, which can be difficult to manage and increase risk exposure. The ability to maintain a single source of truth for data sets and to granularly control who can see what data, reduces reliance on data teams to respond to each and every data access request. Segmenting for multi-tenancy allows users to find and access the data that they’re authorized to with minimal overhead.

In addition to these benefits, multi-tenancy is also easily scalable, offers greater privacy, and, with the right tools, can be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Best Practices for Multi-Tenancy in Cloud Computing

Due to the nature of public clouds with shared data, as well as the increased use of sensitive data for analytics, it’s imperative for multi-tenant architectures to have strong security mechanisms in place. Automated, dynamic data access control can help streamline and strengthen multi-tenant security. The following capabilities are the gold standard when it comes to multi-tenancy best practices:

  • Sensitive data discovery and classification. Being able to automatically scan cloud data sources, detect sensitive data, and generate standard tagging across multiple compute platforms allows you to eliminate manual, error-prone processes and get universal data access control and visibility into sensitive data.
  • Attribute-based access control and purpose restrictions. Make sure to permit or restrict data access based on assigned user, object, action, and environmental attributes. Unlike role-based access control, which relies on the privileges specific to one role for data protection, attribute-based access control has multiple dimensions on which to apply access controls. This makes attribute-based access control a highly dynamic model because policies, users, and objects can be provisioned independently, and policies make access control decisions when the data is requested.
  • Automated policy enforcement. It’s important to enforce access control policies automatically on every query in a way that’s transparent to data consumers and that allows them to use their existing tools, editors, workbenches, and notebooks, without impacting their working processes or performance.
  • Data monitoring and auditing. Finally, capture rich audit logs so data teams can easily keep track of security and compliance with rules and regulations. Automatically monitoring and logging all actions in your data platform helps expedite the process of proving compliant data use and investigating incidents as soon as possible. It’s also important that data teams have the ability to track requests, policy changes, usage, and queries executed, to provide a holistic view of how data is being used and modified.

Multi-Tenancy in Action

The data security, cost savings, and efficiency benefits of multi-tenancy are clear, but how exactly does it work in practice? This how-to blog takes a step-by-step look at how to enforce Redshift data access control across data lakehouses, using Immuta to segment data for multi-tenancy across Redshift and Databricks.

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