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Tenancy (ST, MT, HT and MST)

Single-tenancy (ST) is an architecture in which a single instance of a software application and supporting infrastructure serves one customer (i.e: tenant).

Multi-tenancy (MT) is an architecture in which a single instance of a software application serves multiple customers (i.e: tenants).

Hybrid-tenancy (HT) is an architecture which leverages (micro)services that are both single and multi-tenants to optimize the balance of performance, scale, and security.

Multiple single-tenancy (MST) is an architecture in which a single base code of a software application allows to deploy multiple tenants, each with their own infrastructure. The infrastructure itself may be completely isolated from other tenants (ST), or partially shared (HT) (e.g: different servers, but same DB).

Table of contents

Learn more about the “tenancy” concept and its various use cases

In the context of a SaaS web application, a tenant is often a customer. In NRN, a tenant always refer to a customer.

Most SaaS application are multi-tenants, meaning that they put all their tenants into the same database, and they all have access to their own account through the same server. Thus, the technical infrastructure is not designed per-tenant but is meant to be shared across all tenants. It’s typically the case for Facebook, Twitter and AirBnb. You’re just another customer using the same infrastructure as many other users.

Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you used exactly the same server, or that you’re stored in the same database as another user, especially if you’re living far away (e.g another continent), but that is still multi-tenancy, it’s just that it’s designed to be scalable.

Some SaaS application are single-tenants, meaning that they replicate their infrastructure resources per tenant. That’s the case of SalesForce1, which dynamically creates a database just for you, and then automatically manipulates database fields just for you when you manipulate your own models. That DB is dedicated to you, and you only. No other customer shares it. That’s one of the biggest strengths of SalesForce, because this way it can adapt to your data model. It’s also the case of most HeadlessCMS you can see out there, such as GraphCMS, Directus, etc. They basically dynamically spawn a whole infrastructure just for you!

This design is very powerful, but also much more complicated to build and maintain, it is also (much) more expensive, and often requires a strong tech team.

  • 1: I haven’t checked, but I believe that’s the case. Correct me if I’m wrong! :wink:

What kind of tenancy do I need?


This is typically for SaaS B2C businesses. Of for SaaS B2B businesses that target small businesses.

All your users will use the same app, fetch the same API and your infrastructure will be shared for all of them. Maybe you’ll have some duplicated servers and databases and such to handle a bigger load, but that’s a scalability concern, which isn’t related to tenancy itself.

This is the simplest tenancy, the less expensive and the fastest to build (ROI).

Single tenancy

This is typically for SaaS B2B businesses who target big businesses.

For instance, it’s our case because we target higher education institutions.

Our customers can’t have their platform taken down because another customer has a sudden high traffic load.

Also, each customer may not use the same set of features, and because sales are very much complex with such customers, you may not have all your customers using the same version. This means you may need to allow a customer to stay on v1, another on v2, another on v3, etc. And thus you need to have each of them isolated, use different servers, and probably different databases between major versions. (depends on how you deal with versioning)

Also, you really can’t afford to take down multiple customers by mistake. Imagine you’re running some migration and all customer platforms are down at once, that’d be a hell of a day for your whole team.

Hybrid tenancy

So, you definitely need to have some isolation. Sometimes it’s preferred to completely isolate each tenant by replicating the whole infrastructure. Sometimes, you just need to replicate the most critical components.

For instance, the Hybrid Tenancy used in the NRN demo replicates only the server on which the customer app runs, but it uses the same database for all customers.

At Unly, to mitigate potential network issues, we’ve put a GraphQL proxy cache in between our app and our API, so that even if the DB/API fails, the app won’t crash (cache will take over).

That’s what’s called Hybrid tenancy. You take the best of both worlds (ST/MT), and build a hybrid tenancy design that fits your business needs.

Multiple Single-Tenancy

This, we invented. It’s a concept where you deploy all your tenants through the same source code. They all share the same source code (within reason, e.g: not major versions), and can all be deployed from the same repository, similar to what monorepos can do.

So, it’s not really a new way of designing a tenancy system, but rather an architecture designed to deploy multiple tenants easily, through CI/CD actions.

Using NRN, this design allows you to quickly deploy a new tenant by writing a few scripts:

  • Run deploy:customerX: Deploy the new customer to staging
    • Uses vercel.customerX.staging.json: Vercel config for staging environment
  • Run deploy:customerX:production: Deploy the new customer to production
    • Uses vercel.customerX.production.json: Vercel config for production environment

Those scripts and config files would automatically generate a whole new Vercel project the first time you’d run the deploy scripts. This new project would run on its own server and own domain name.

It would be completely isolated from other tenants, only the database would be shared. But you could even use a different database if you wished to do so! For the sake of simplicity we decided to use a shared database for the NRN demos.

This is what we call “Multiple Single-Tenancy”. There might be a better terminology out there, but the concept isn’t widely known/used, and we didn’t find any.


Now that you better understand all those concepts, it should be easier to choose what you need.

Honestly, most businesses don’t even know what tenancy is, or just need a simple multi-tenants design. If you need to handle multiple tenants with a shared codebase, using a preset that uses MST design should help a ton.

At least, we hope it does! :wink:

  • Tip: All presets that support mst design use the mst tag in their name.