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Resources > Security Terms Glossary > What is a Multitenant Cloud Architecture

What is a Multitenant Cloud Architecture?

What is a Multitenant Cloud Architecture?

A multitenant cloud architecture describes a single cloud instance and infrastructure purpose-built to support multiple customers.

Multitenancy can describe hardware or software architectures in which multiple systems, applications, or data from different enterprises are hosted on the same physical hardware. This differs from single-tenancy, in which a server runs one instance of an operating system and application. In the cloud world, a multitenant cloud architecture enables customers (“tenants”) to share computing resources in a public or private cloud.

Multitenancy is a common feature of purpose-built, cloud-delivered services, as it allows customers to share resources efficiently while securely scaling to meet increasing demand. Despite the fact that they share resources, cloud customers aren't aware of each other and their data is kept totally separate.

What multitenant means to the cloud

Cloud providers offer multitenancy as a means to share the use of computing resources. However, this shared use of resources should not be confused with virtualization, a closely related concept. In a multitenant environment, multiple customers share the same application, in the same operating environment, on the same hardware, with the same storage mechanism. In virtualization, unlike multitenancy, every application runs on a separate virtual machine with its own operating system.

Essentially, as TechTarget explained so well, a multitenant cloud is like an apartment building. Each resident has authorized access to his or her own apartment, yet all residents share resources such as water, electricity, and common areas. Similarly, in a multitenant cloud, the provider sets overarching rules and performance expectations for customers, but individual customers have private access to their information.

The multitenant design of a cloud service can have a dramatic impact on the delivery of applications and services. It enables unprecedented reliability, availability, and scalability, while enabling cost savings, flexibility, and security to IT organizations.

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Multitenancy, security, and Zscaler

A primary benefit of a multitenant architecture is that organizations can easily onboard users. With a multitenant cloud, there is no difference between onboarding 10,000 users from one company or 10 users from a thousand companies. This type of platform scales easily to handle increasing demand, while other types of architectures can be easily overwhelmed and prone to outages.

From a security standpoint, a multitenant architecture enables policies to be implemented on a global scale across the entire cloud. This is why Zscaler users can roam anywhere, knowing that their traffic will be routed to the nearest Zscaler data center—one of 150 around the world—and their policies will follow them. Because of this capability, an organization with a thousand users can now afford to have the exact same security protections as a very large organization with tens or hundreds of thousands of employees.

Cloud-native SASE architectures will almost always be multitenant with multiple customers sharing the underlying data plane.

– Gartner, The Future of Network Security Is in the Cloud

With the corporate network now moving beyond the traditional “security perimeter” to the internet, the only way to provide adequate security to users—no matter where they connect—is by moving security and access controls to the cloud.

Zscaler leverages multitenancy to scale to increasing demands and spikes in traffic without impacting performance. Scalability lets us easily scan every byte of data coming and going—on all ports and protocols, including SSL—without negatively impacting the user experience. Another benefit of multitenancy is that as soon as any threat is detected on the Zscaler cloud, we can instantly deliver protections against this threat to all our customers.

The Zscaler cloud is always current with the latest security updates to keep customers protected from rapidly evolving malware. With tens of thousands of new phishing sites arriving every day, appliances can’t keep up. And Zscaler minimizes costs and eliminates the complexity of patching, updating, and maintaining hardware and software.

The enterprise IT landscape is changing with the adoption of mobility and cloud services, and enterprises need to change their architecture to meet the growing needs of securing users from anywhere on any device.

– Tony Fergusson, IT Infrastructure Architect, MAN Energy Solutions

Zscaler security controls are built into a unified platform, so they communicate with each other to provide a cohesive picture of all the traffic that’s moving across your network. Through a single interface, you can gain insight into every request—by user, location, and device around the world—in seconds.

What about “hybrid” security solutions?

Organizations are increasing their use of cloud-based apps, such as Salesforce, Box, and Office 365, while migrating to infrastructure services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Therefore, many businesses are realizing that it makes more sense to have traffic secured in the cloud.

In response, legacy vendors who rely heavily on selling on-prem hardware appliances are promoting so-called “hybrid solutions,” with data center security being handled by appliances, and mobile or branch security being handled by similar security stacks housed in cloud environments.

Single tenancy typically results in lower densities with potentially higher costs that are passed on to enterprises.

– Gartner, The Future of Network Security Is in the Cloud

This hybrid strategy complicates, rather than simplifies, enterprise security, in that cloud users and administrators get none of the benefits of a true cloud service—speed, scale, global visibility, and threat intelligence—which can only be provided through a multitenant global architecture.

See the difference for yourself

Want to learn more? Discover what the innovative Zscaler multitenant cloud architecture is all about and how it can help organizations reduce IT cost and complexity while improving security and the user experience.