The problems of multi-tenancy: governance

A recurring topic in AEM projects is multi-tenancy. Wikipedia describes multitenancy as „[…] software architecture in which a single instance of a software […] serves multiple tenants“. In the AEM projects I’ve done I encountered this pattern most when a company wants to host several brands and/or subsidiaries as independent tenants within a single AEM platform (that means: connected authoring and publishing instances). In this blog post I only cover the aspect of multi tenancy in a single company. Hosting tenants for multiple independent companies is a different story and likely even more complex.

At first sight multi-tenancy seems to be only a technical problem (separation of content/templates/components, privileges, etc.), but from what I learned, there is a much bigger problem, which you should solve first. And that’s the aspect of organization and governance.

Multitenancy is hard when different tenants (being brand organizations or subsidiaries) need to integrate into the single platform. Each tenant has its own requirements (depending on its special needs), its own timelines, and its own budget. You have larger tenants and smaller tenants on your AEM platform. But this does not necessarily reflect the power of these tenants inside the company. It may even contradict, and a smaller or less powerful organization or brand has such demands, that it will be the largest tenant on your AEM platform.

That means, that there will be conflicts, when it comes to defining scope, timeline and budget. The tenant which contributes more budget wants to have more influence on these 3 aspects than another tenant, which spends a significant smaller amount. But the smaller tenant might have needs which can overrule this, for example a tradeshow where some new features on the brand pages are absolutely required, while the other tenant (yet more powerful within the organization) has requirements, which are important in a more distant future. How are these requirements prioritized?

These questions (and conflicts) are not new, they exist for decades, even not centuries. But they have a huge impact on the platform owner. The platform owner wants to satisfy the needs of all the tenants, but is often faced with contradicting requirements; while on the technical side these can be often (more or less) solved (just by throwing people and time onto the problem), there are still things which are in the first place organizational issues, and which can only be solved on a organizational or political level. Then you have topics like:

  • How can you coordinate different timelines of different tenants, so you can satisfy all their needs?
  • Tenants want to have their own development teams or agencies. How can they work together and feed their results into a single platform without breaking it? Who’s responsible when the platform broke down?
  • How do you do funding when tenants contribute development work to the platform and other benefits from this work as well? Invoicing the tenants which benefit from other tenant’s development work?
  • What’s the role of the platform owner? Does the platform have its own budget or is the platform solely funded by the tenants? Is the platform owner able to reject feature requests from tenants and say “no”?
  • How should the platform owner react with contradicting requirements? Is splitting the single platform into multiple ones (with different codebase) something which is desirable?

There are a lot of questions like these, and they are very specific to the company and the platform. They can all be solved, but the company and the organization itself has to solve them, but not the platform development team(s). Because then the organization foo will go down even to the developers (and as we all know: this kind of human being doesn’t really like that :-))

My ideal multi-tenancy project looks like this: A strong platform owner with some budget on its own. The tenants have pretty much the same size, and they fund the platform for the largest part to the same amount each. A steering committee (with participants from all tenants) deciding on all the organizational topics, and the same on the technical level if required. Requirements are consolidated on a project level and then implemented by a team, which is reporting to the platform owner.

Yeah, I have to admit, I haven’t found that customer project yet 🙂 But in such a project you as a member of the development team don’t really feel anymore the multi-tenancy aspect on an organizational level, but you only have to deal with it only on a technical level. Which is very nice.

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