Saturday, June 21, 2008

Does Multi-Tenancy Matter?

Multi-tenancy basically means that the service provider is supporting several customers with the same resources. (There is some ambiguity about exactly which resources we are talking about - hence the embarrassingly public disagreement between Oracle and one of its reference SaaS users described by Phil Wainewright in Many degrees of multi-tenancy.)

Gianpaolo Carraro makes the point that if I'm a service consumer, I shouldn't care about multi-tenancy - The "multi-tenant" emperor has not clothes, and adds I can't believe we're still talking about this.

With services like laundry, I really shouldn't care if my dirty clothes are put into the same load as everyone else's, as long as the service provider can reliably sort them all out and return them correctly. Some providers may think that the cost savings from multi-tenancy of the washing machine doesn't justify the hassle of labelling and sorting the clothes, but that's surely his problem not mine.

But if I have doubts about his competence and reliability, and if I have to double-check everything (= increased transaction cost) because I feel there is an increased risk of error on his part, then it becomes my problem as well.

Gianpaolo uses the example of a restaurant kitchen. If someone on the next table orders the same dish at the same time, surely I don't care if the chef puts two slices of meat together into the same pan. Well I do care if it means that the chef is tempted to compromise, or pays insufficient attention to my special requirements. As a service consumer, I may have some theory about the likely behaviour and incentives of the service provider (Gianpaolo talks about people wanting to "show off their architectural capacities"). But this only matters to the extent that it affects what I end up with, or when.

SaaS inherits from SOA the principle of encapsulation - the idea of separating the specification (WHAT) from the implementation (HOW). But a lack of trust between service consumer and service provider, as well as possible incentive incompatibility, leads to a breach in encapsulation. For SOA and SaaS to work properly, you need a good line on managing quality and risk. But that's a story for another post.

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