Three phones showing campusM apps for Queensborough Community College, University of Montana and University of Alabama Birmingham

BLOG – No App Left Behind – Explaining Multi-Tenant SaaS Solutions in Higher Education

IT is always striving to raise the level of service for college-wide enterprise applications such as student record systems, learning management systems, library management systems, and now campus mobile solutions. 

So how does that impact staff, students, and other users?

  • Improved physical and logical security mitigates cyber-based threats.
  • Greater reliability from redundancy and fault tolerance would mean less downtime.
  • Load balancing means better performance.
  • Latest security patches increases safety and latest software features improves functionality and user experience.
  • And to IT itself, an extendible cloud solution means that the service can scale to match their growing needs over time.

But while it makes sense not to host a mobile campus solution yourself, you have to consider the difference between (i) having a third-party host your system (such as Amazon Web Services or Azure); (ii) having the vendor host it for you as a separate instance in the cloud, potentially on a virtualized server; and the Ex Libris approach (iii) having the vendor host you as an additional tenant in a multi-tenant SaaS system.

The first option (third-party host) removes the need for you to manage the physical server or clustered servers, but the application can still fall behind on available updates – including the latest patches. If and when something goes wrong, you have to jump through hoops to fix it. It’s questionable whether it delivers any tangible value for a campus mobile solution.

The second option (vendor host, virtualized server) is significantly better. But now the vendor is managing hundreds or thousands of unique instances of their application. While that is not a direct problem for the college, it does affect the vendor’s ability to focus on your specific needs and problems. As soon you are running different instances of software, potentially on different CPUSs, virtual machines, networks, and database instances, by definition they are different. They can and do behave differently.

These spurious inconsistencies are notoriously hard to reconcile… even more so when under intense time pressure. For example, with an iBeacon-based attendance monitoring system, campusM will easily gather in the order of 20,000 registrations per day. So every minute of downtime or reduced performance due to some of the above problems is crippling.

There is a good reason why Ex Libris went with multi-tenant SaaS not only for its world-leading Alma solution, but also campusM. Ex Libris focuses 100% of its energy towards maintaining a single instance of the software. All colleges share that single instance of campusM as well as that single instance of Oracle and other associated software. That one instance is patched up-to-the-minute and the moment a new feature is added to the product, everyone in the world has access to it. Likewise, any issues or bugs are instantly detected, reported, fixed, and deployed to everyone simultaneously.

There is no delay and you are not waiting in line for attention.

There is one final advantage to multi-tenant SaaS – inter-college collaboration. As campusM colleges develop new tiles to perform specific tasks (e.g. late night student-run Uber-style car service to ferry students safely to their destination), they can optionally be shared in the campusM registry so that other colleges can build off of it, improve it, and share it. This strong community shares their non-proprietary inventions for the benefit of their peers around the world.

Ex Libris campusM is proud to be the only true multi-tenant SaaS campus mobile solution, a fundamental design decision originating from its very inception.

Author Bob Banerjee – Solutions Architect, campusM Mobile Solutions.