Mastering SaaS DevOps: How to Automate Multi-Tenant Deployments

Empowered by the expertise and practical experience of our solutions architects and DevOps experts, the article will guide you in crafting, designing, and implementing automated deployments for SaaS DevOps on the AWS platform.

Given that the object of our scrutiny in this article is the link between SaaS development and DevOps, we will place a specific emphasis on automation multi-tenant deployments best practices within the SaaS model.

Discover how SaaS can ensure seamless updates and releases while maintaining uninterrupted customer experiences.

Mastering SaaS DevOps

Automating SaaS Workflows

Let us get into the anatomy of a basic SaaS automation workflow. As a rule, a SaaS application is a centrally hosted service accessible to customers. This entails providing a shared environment where customers can approach resources simultaneously. Typically, a deployment pipeline or infrastructure as code is used to set up this SaaS environment.

As SaaS applications will only perform their function when customers are successfully onboarded, a “tenant onboarding service” is specially developed to fulfill this precondition. The service tackles routine tasks like configuring tenant settings, creating user accounts, and setting up billing profiles.

Once onboarded, the tenants can start using the application. The crucial thing for concurrent use of shared resources is regular application architecture updates. In the best-case scenario, updates with the latest deployments and releases should occur without disrupting customers’ experience.

SaaS also provides a “tenant offboarding service,” akin in its functionality to the previously mentioned “tenant onboarding service”. This feature eliminates settings, users, and profiles from the system when a tenant vacates the property.

Advantages of Automated SaaS Workflows

Achieving and maintaining efficiency, reliability, and scalability for Software as a Service applications in practice is a complex and challenging endeavor. One of the key strategies to achieve these goals is through SaaS DevOps, which focuses on the automation of workflows. By leveraging automated processes, SaaS can streamline their operations, reduce costs, and enhance the overall quality of their services.

Unlocking the power of automation within workflows is a strategic move that can revolutionize business operation overall, let alone at such critical stages as onboarding and offboarding. The implementation of automated workflows in a SaaS environment, at least at the points of onboarding and offboarding, has several advantages.

Efficiency and Speed

In competitive marketplaces, where prompt deployment might be the difference between gaining new customers and not, the speed is crucial. You can win this advantage if your tenants are onboarded swiftly and can start using the application almost instantly. This can be unlocked by automating time-consuming tasks that accompany onboarding, such as registering tenant information, provisioning resources, configuring settings, and integrating services.

Automating offboarding, on the other hand, entails reduced administrative load on the personnel making sure that the procedures for deactivating the tenant’s account, removing access, and retrieving resources are completed effectively in due time, before the freed-up resources may be needed for another tenant.

Consistency and Accuracy

Manual onboarding comes with a certain likelihood of human error. Standardized processes, in contrast, ensure consistent and accurate, error-free onboarding. This results in a reliable and predictable setup while also offering a seamless and professional experience for new tenants.

Consistency is just as important during offboarding so as to handle tenant data correctly and securely. Automated workflows guarantee maintenance of security standards: data are archived or deleted according to data retention policies and regulations, and access permissions are systematically removed.

Expense reduction

Inasmuch as automation cuts down on the need for manual work, which in turn lowers labor expenses and reduces the risk of expensive mistakes, the time and effort saved can then be put towards innovation and enhancing the services provided. Ultimately, this scenario brings more benefits to the tenants.

Automated offboarding ensures that resources used by departing tenants are promptly recovered and opened up for new or current tenants. This smart resource management aids in optimizing operational expenses.

Enhanced Security

Security is a top priority when bringing new tenants on board. Given that, automated workflows can integrate security measures like setting up tenant-specific encryption, applying security policies, and conducting initial security assessments. This all in complex guarantees that each tenant’s environment starts off secure.

Similarly, when a tenant exits, it is vital to prevent data breaches and unauthorized access. Automated offboarding workflows enforce security measures to delete or archive data, deactivate user accounts, and revoke irrelevant permissions.

Complications on the Way to Automation Multi-Tenant Deployments

Challenges in Automating Multi-Tenant Deployments for SaaS DevOps

This looks pretty straightforward, yet the reality is often more complex than expected. In many cases, SaaS providers opt to create per-tenant, per-tier resources. This approach may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but bear with us before making your judgements. We will examine probable reasons for such choices.

Per-tenant, per-tier resources can be the optimal choice for a number of reasons. In particular, when providers go from an on-premise software deployment paradigm to a SaaS-based environment, this is one typical situation. The technical team can be forced to develop segregated resources in order to handle different tenants if the current software does not have built-in support for multi-tenancy, all the while re-architecting the software as a service in the background.

Service Level Agreements
Another justification for per-tenant, per-tier resources is the need to provide SLAs (Service Level Agreements) for certain tenant levels. For example, a SaaS provider could provide shared resources for basic tier customers, while dedicated resources would be needed for premium tier tenants to guarantee reduced latency and greater availability. In such cases, the architecture may necessitate the creation of dedicated resources to meet the SLAs for certain tiers of tenants, though this decision is rather often driven by the specific business objectives and market strategies of the SaaS provider.

In order to comply with local rules and regulations, SaaS providers may opt for establishing per-tenant, per-tier environments. The thing is, regulatory requirements frequently mandate the deployment of instances in certain locations, even if an application is designed to support many clients. For instance, distinct deployments could be necessary to guarantee compliance with the relevant legislative frameworks in some areas of Europe, America, and Canada.

Blast radius
Reducing the effect of failures becomes essential in situations when a SaaS provider services hundreds or thousands of tenants and customers. SaaS providers may contain possible difficulties and stop them from affecting the entire environment by segmenting their deployments into distinct portions.

These deployments have trade-offs, though. Despite solving blast radius and compliance issues, they frequently lead to higher costs as more resources are used. Another point is that since upgrades and releases must be handled independently for every deployment, overhead is increased and operational efficiency may be jeopardized.

SaaS Deployments Automation In Reality

SaaS Automation in Reality

Tenant Onboarding

Let us now explore a practical automated procedure. Taking into account our tier-based deployment strategy, in which we have a basic tier pooling several tenants, it makes sense to consider including this basic tier configuration in your application’s initial bootstrapping phase. There will always be some base-tier tenants from the beginning, after all.

Having settled this, you will have the onboarding service figure out which tier a new tenant belongs to when they try to log into your SaaS app. Case in point, if a tenant is classified as a basic tier tenant, the onboarding service needs to ensure that they are integrated into the environment or resources of the basic tier pool. This includes, among other things, setting up tenant users, generating the required settings, and building meeting and billing profiles.

Tenant Provisioning

When considering the provisioning of a dedicated resource for a siloed or premium tier tenant, another function is introduced into the onboarding process, which is tenant provisioning. Creating the resources specifically tailored for siloed tenants, along with configuring these silo resources as required can then also be automated.

Thus, it becomes necessary for the deployment pipeline to ensure synchronization among all of these resources, for consistency across all tenant deployments and resources coming from a single code base is fundamental in a SaaS environment.

The goal for architects is then to achieve a smooth provisioning experience while guaranteeing that deployment pipelines can reliably be synced across all environments. On top of that, tenant offboarding becomes more significant since a need to withdraw some tenant resources could arise.

Multitenancy on Container Example

We are now transitioning from theory to practice, into the exploration of implementing this challenge using a container-based approach.

Application Deployment Models

Let us first go over the application deployment concept before getting into the specifics of tenant onboarding and the deployment process. In various contexts of software-as-a-service platforms and their subscription models, service offerings are often divided into basic and premium tiers.

The basic tier is more affordable, sometimes even free. The cost of this choice is limited access to resources, namely CPU, memory, and storage, as well as features, for example, customer support. Scalability options are also limited, which nonetheless makes this tier suitable for small businesses, individual users, or non-critical applications.

The premium tier entails a larger fee but offers a comprehensive set of advanced features and functionalities. Users benefit from greater access to computing resources that ensure better performance. Customer support is significantly enhanced, often including priority support and dedicated account managers. Extensive scalability options accommodate growing demands, making this tier the best match for enterprises, mission-critical applications, extensive integrations, and enhanced collaboration tools.

The basic tier and the premium tier are what will be examined more thoroughly in the following practical example.

Application Deployment Models

Basic Tier Example

The configuration that has been selected for basic-tier clients uses pooled resources and is known as a pool deployment model. This means that these clients will have to share Message Queuing Service (SQS) and DynamoDB resources in addition to a Kubernetes namespace that is hosted on an Amazon EKS cluster.

Premium Tier Example

On the other hand, tenants in the premium tier will have exclusive resources and use a different namespace in Kubernetes. Even while this decision can appear a little random in this particular situation, it is important to recognize that every use case may call for different specifications. Additionally, resources for SQS and DynamoDB will be set aside specifically for the premium tier.

Automation Tooling: Terraform and Helm

Now that the architecture for application deployment has been elucidated, it is imperative to comprehend the automation tools utilized in this process. Even when some decisions have been taken, as those mentioned in the abstract, it is worth noting that alternative tools could potentially serve similar functions.

The first step to set the process in motion is to establish our tier configuration. This process entails converting technology demands into commercial requirements, such as pricing and packaging methods.

For the base tier, for example, we may decide on certain memory and CPU allotments as well as the number of instances or containers. On the other hand, we may allocate more memory to premium-tier tenants to enhance features like lower latency.

Tenant configurations are instances of these configurations that we build and manage individually during the tenant onboarding process. This can be achieved with Terraform and Helm, for instance.

Automation Tooling for SaaS DevOps

Automating Deployments with Terraform

Terraform by HashiCorp is an infrastructure as code tool that allows setting up and managing cloud and on-premises resources using easy-to-read configuration files. The files can be versioned, reused, and shared, which simplifies consistent management of all the infrastructure throughout its lifecycle.

This tool changes the approach to infrastructure by letting users define and automate everything with simple configuration files. By now it has become an essential tool for managing the complex needs of modern SaaS applications.

Read on to find out how this infrastructure management tool helps SaaS providers automate their deployments.

  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC)
    Code is what it takes to define and maintain infrastructure with an IaC tool. Indeed, a single, declarative configuration file may define all aspects of the infrastructure, including servers, databases, and networking configurations. With this strategy, consistency and repeatability in deployments soar.
  • Automated Provisioning
    Setting up infrastructure can also be automated, including creating, updating, and managing components like servers and databases across different cloud providers. With this level of automation, the need for manual setup, as well as the chance of mistakes, is removed.
  • Scalability
    With a cloud automation tool, scaling your infrastructure is easy. Settings accommodate scalable components and are adjustable to handle fluctuating traffic: efficiently and consistently.
  • Consistency and Reliability
    Declarative approach within IaC ensures that the infrastructure maintains the desired state. When deploying SaaS applications, the tool compares the current state with the desired state and makes the necessary amendments to align them. This consistency minimizes configuration drift and boosts reliability.
  • Environment Management
    Multiple environments, like development, staging, and production, can be created and managed using the same configuration files. In this way, all environments are consistent and easily reproducible, in turn, simplifying the management and deployment of changes across different stages of the software lifecycle.
  • Version Control and Collaboration
    Git, among other similar systems, allows you to version control configuration files. With the help of version control systems, teams maintain organization and facilitate collaborative infrastructure management; for instance, in infrastructure modifications, update monitoring, and reverting to earlier versions as needed.
  • Modularization and Reusability
    With the IaC tool facilitating modularization, you may design reusable modules for standard infrastructure parts. As there is no need to duplicate work and the reusable modules may be shared and utilized across several projects, consistency and time-efficiency are guaranteed.
  • Compliance and Security
    Security and compliance checks may be integrated directly into the infrastructure configuration process using deployment automation tools. By specifying security policies and compliance rules, configuration ensures that all deployed resources adhere to these requirements. This comes in handy for those systems that must stick to stringent regulatory regulations.
  • Integration with CI/CD Pipelines
    Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, which automate infrastructure modifications in tandem with app updates, are well-suited for infrastructure as code. Infrastructure changes are tested, verified, and automatically deployed in integration with CI/CD pipelines.
  • Resource Management
    One gains thorough visibility into the resources managed by Terraform. Resource tracking and management are made simple via the creation of state files that record the current condition of the infrastructure. Such a level of observability is required for maintaining and improving the infrastructure that underpins SaaS apps.

Automating Deployments with Helm

Helm is an open-source tool that acts as a package manager for Kubernetes. Its primary function is to simplify defining, installing, and managing Kubernetes apps. The Kubernetes configuration manager streamlines deployment and handles complex configurations.

Essentially, this tool packages apps into reusable charts, which makes automated multi-tenant deployments in Kubernetes way easier. With unique setups for every tenant, these charts enable repeatable, consistent deployments. Version management ensures stability by making it simple to undo changes. In order to guarantee that every component is delivered successfully, it also maintains dependencies and connects with CI/CD pipelines to handle scaling and upgrades, similarly to the tool from the previous section.

Let us explore how Helm helps SaaS DevOps specialists automate their deployments.

  • Simplified Deployment Management
    It becomes possible to smoothen Complex Kubernetes app setup and updates. DevOps teams can now manage Kubernetes apps with the deployment tool by utilizing a single package of charts. The latter are collections of all the components an application needs, including services and settings.
  • Version Control and Rollbacks
    Much like with the tool above, dependability and stability of a SaaS program become a priority. Helm monitors the chart versions used inside the Kubernetes cluster. This implies that if an update creates issues, teams can roll back to previous iterations of an app.
  • Parameterization and Customization
    With a focus on customisation, the Kubernetes package manager charts let DevOps teams tweak deployments with values files. Whether it is for development, staging, or production, you can use the same chart but with different values files. Maintaining consistency across environments while still allowing for specific setup tweaks is easier than ever.
  • Reusable and Shareable Packages
    Functioning as reusable templates, Helm charts can be shared across projects and teams to have the teams tons of time and account for consistency. Common application setups and dependencies that can be packaged into charts allow deployment again and again without starting from scratch each time.
  • Dependency Management
    The management of connected services can be delegated to Helm as it handles connections between various Kubernetes parts and apps. As soon as teams define these connections in a chart, the tool makes sure all needed components are set up in the right order and configuration.
  • Automated Rollouts and Updates
    Teams can automatically upgrade apps, apply patches, and adjust settings on Kubernetes with simple commands. So, while updates are streamlined, manual work – reduced, and apps – consistently updated and reliable.
  • Integration with CI/CD Pipelines
    In a similar fashion to the IaC app described above, this tool also fits into Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. Efficient and reliable Kubernetes apps deployments are up for automation.
  • Environment Isolation and Management
    Teams make sure configurations and resources are kept apart by using different releases for development, staging, and production. This minimizes the possibility of confusion while maintaining consistency.
  • Enhanced Visibility and Auditing
    The Kubernetes automation tool offers comprehensive release history and status updates, visualizing insights into the deployment process. As a result, teams may examine modifications, keep an eye on deployment history, and evaluate the progress of an application at any time. Maintaining control and monitoring in SaaS systems requires this kind of oversight.
Serhiy Kozlov
Serhiy Kozlov CEO, Romexsoft
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