SaaS architecture

What Is SaaS Architecture? Design Principles

As explained in the first part of this series, we clearly saw why Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the way to go when it comes to establishing self-serving applications that can be scaled up and developed fast(er). It’s no coincidence that this methodology has leapfrogged rivaling methodologies like Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Let’s learn more about how to get started with your SaaS journey.

SaaS Applications Architecture

Before getting started you will need to analyze your target audience and understand the market/s you will be operating in. After defining these basic needs, there comes the stage where you need to understand the technical requirements your SaaS application architecture needs to accommodate. This article will dive into these exact specifics and introduce you to the best available options in the market right now.

Related: Enterprise SaaS Architecture – The How 

Getting Started with SaaS App Development

Like any other project, the first step and most important one is planning. 

Many organizations fail to pick the right type of SaaS application architecture, leading to a disastrous chain-reaction that becomes hard to deal with as scaling up starts. Beyond the complexity involved in maintaining bad architectural decisions, it also has a direct impact on the services you are offering and pricing flexibility, which are the biggest reasons you are getting started with SaaS in the first place.

Here are the three crucial factors you should inspect closely before getting started:

  • Infrastructure and Hardware – This is where you need to pick the right cloud vendor for your needs and tech stack to go with it
  • IT Administration – You need to take care of provisioning automation, while also ideally trying to automate installations, backups, and updating processes
  • Licensing – Your SaaS model needs to be cost optimized when it comes to onboarding feature selection and other important usage matrices

Picking the right SaaS architecture model for your business is very important. For example, if you have picked isolated app Virtual Machines (VMs) for your ecosystem. This will let you achieve optimal security and performance metrics, but these boxes will not be fully utilized. But if you take the other route and share the DB and app servers with multiple clients, a random spike can trigger performance issues.

Related: The Evolution of SaaS Architecture

Nothing is irreversible in the IT/SaaS space, but going the wrong route will lead to costly and time consuming realignment processes that will impact your business.

How to Pick the Right SaaS Architecture?

Now that we have established the basic best practices that need to be adopted in the initial planning stage, it’s time to get familiar with the 4 SaaS architecture types.

  • Type 1 SaaS Architecture – This type of architecture basically requires runtime and data isolation, but not necessarily on the cloud.
    What’s it right for? Non-cloud use cases like banking and finance businesses.
  • Type 2 SaaS Architecture – Unlike Type 1, this architecture needs runtime and data isolation on the cloud as well. The cost of isolation is put on customers.
    What’s it right for? Customers who don’t want to share infrastructure and the app.
  • Type 3 SaaS Architecture – Here, the app is shared with all customers, which means that there is no runtime isolation whatsoever (minimal deployment).
    What’s it right for? Privacy-conscious customers unwilling to share data storage.
  • Type 4 SaaS Architecture – This type of SaaS architecture is all about zero deployments where all customers share the app and database infrastructure.
    What’s it right for? High onboarding frequency scenarios. For example, WordPress.

As explained earlier in this guide, your customer requirements and behaviors should dictate your SaaS architecture choice. This is the only way to achieve sustainable growth and steer clear of situations where your development teams have to rebuild everything from scratch. SaaS is a profitable, smooth, and manageable methodology. But this is valid only if you minimize operational costs and work.

Related: Best 10 PLG Tools for Your SaaS Application

If you have customers looking for extremely high levels of reliability, security, and customization, single tenancy might be the way to go. It is also easier to migrate to new environments and perform quick backups (and recoveries). Just keep in mind that the SaaS route will come at a price, literally. These SaaS ecosystems are often under-utilized and very costly to configure, manage, and maintain.

Multi-tenant SaaS architecture is the better option if you want to create a scalable business model that is flexible and versatile. Here are some benefits.

  1. Lower Maintenance Requirements – All ongoing maintenance costs can be baked into your pricing models. Updates and patches apply to all users
  2. Cost and Resource Saving – Everything is shared – databases, applications, services, and resources. The result – lowered operational costs
  3. Feature Rich and User Friendly – Onboarding is significantly faster and easier. Self-service features enhance customer experience and brand performance
  4. Improved Efficiency – While this requires the right infrastructure and tools, all users can ideally get the same level of service and performance
  5. Better Scalability – All of the aforementioned benefits allow multi-tenant centric businesses to scale up faster thanks to the added elasticity

Just make sure you are getting your multi-tenant design right before getting started. This will allow you to make sure that the right information is going to your users without any unintentional mix ups or data leaks. Assigning unique tenant IDs is an effective way to achieve this goal. If your SaaS application is going to share tenancies, make sure it can accommodate flexible schema usage as well.

Last but not the least, make sure that you are secure and compliant with the latest data privacy laws like GDPR, CCPA, and other ones relevant to your geolocation.

Related: How Passwords are Breached?

Let’s Talk About Serverless Architecture

Single and multi tenant SaaS architecture, with all of their variations, are not your only options. You should also take Serverless Architecture into consideration.

Serverless architecture can operate as a BaaS (Back-End-as-a-Service), where the application’s backend is primarily on the cloud. It can also be a FaaS (Function-as-a-Service), where the application runs the code via various event triggers. In other words, functions are evoked on-demand, which allows businesses to enjoy a wide range of benefits that cannot be ignored. 

Here are just a few of them.

  • Quick(er) Deployment – Zero provisioning needs. Automatic scaling
  • Integration – Agile-friendly, works well with microservices, less complex
  • Focus on UI/UX – Your development teams can focus on features/frontend 
  • Flexible Infrastructure – Buy servers on-demand. Scale up (or down) fast
  • Better Latency – Access points all around the world for better performance

But like everything in life, serverless architecture also has its flaws and limitations that need to be factored into your decision-making process. The biggest and more significant one is the vendor lock-in issue. Depending on an external third-party vendor will take away a lot of your control. There is also the “cold-start” issue, where the platform needs to initialize and fire up internal resources, causing delays.

A well-planned and executed SaaS architecture can have high levels of fault tolerance and allow you to make sure disaster recovery will not be a disaster.

Here are the top three ways to make sure your SaaS app will succeed:

  1. Self Service – Make your SaaS application as self-serving as possible. The more your customer needs to contact the support team to get things done, the less likely he is to stay with your brand. Registering, setting up a password, learning about new features, and eventually upgrading memberships – all of these actions should be user-friendly with the end-user in mind.
  2. Multi-Tenancy – Once your SaaS application is able to serve more than one customer, you can enjoy more flexibility. This means you can scale up faster with no technical or operational constraints. Your application/s should also have the ability to accommodate new third-party applications and external tags for added functionality and customizations benefits.
  3. Microservices – Embracing microservices will help you further simplify your ecosystem for easier and smoother maintenance (and upgrades). It will also become easier to pin-point issues and solve them without painful downtime or roll-backs that can damage your brand reputation. Just make sure you have automated your database governance and management before doing so.

Related: Common Security Pitfalls of User Management

Working With Top Cloud Providers

Going the Amazon Web Services (AWS) route? For starters, your database should ideally be Amazon RDS. PostgreSQL is also a decent option.

Your SaaS tech stack should ideally be powered by Python, React, and AWS programming combo. Many organizations with non-complex offerings are also going with Node.js instead of Python. Your container orchestration platform should have Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) if you are a startup or have a medium sized operation. Big ops can pick Amazon Fargate or go for Amazon EKS.

With Microsoft Azure, you have MySQL or PostgreSQL, which can be procured from the Azure portal. Make sure you are using elastic pools for more flexibility.

On the container front, you will be working with Azure Kubernetes Service, also known as AKS. This will allow you to smoothly run microservices and run your containers (without managing servers) on Linux. Microsoft also offers seamless API Management, which runs in a multi cloud setting and allows you to adopt API architectures across multiple environments.

Wrapping It Up

As per a recent Frontegg research, in 98% of the cases today, the multi-tenant architecture is the right approach to address the dynamic requirements. Specific use cases may still require single-tenant SaaS architecture implementation, but more often than not, the mainstream online PLG-business today will go the multi-tenant route. But as explained in the guide, you need to do it properly with solid planning.

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