Behind the Cloud: 5 Keys to Building a True Cloud Service

By James Ahlborn

With the current popularity of the terms “cloud washing,” it’s good to start off with a basic premise: You can’t migrate a traditional on-premise application to a hosted environment like Amazon or Microsoft Azure and call it a cloud service.

There’s already a name for that software delivery model. It’s called application service provider (ASP). Not cloud. If you want to explore the differences, here’s one place to start.

Boomi has been offering a true cloud service — an integration platform as a service (iPaaS) — for 11 years now. So, for us, it is a very important distinction between an on-premise middleware hosted on a cloud and a cloud-native service, designed from its inception to take full advantage of the cloud.

Here are five things we’ve found most important in building an industry-leading cloud service.

1. Multi-tenancy

The primary benefit of multi-tenancy is shared resources, which translates to lower costs. Let’s say you have 500 customers running processes, but they’re not all running at the same time. If you have 500 separate instances, you have a lot of idle resources.

But, if you put them all on one instance, you can balance the tenants that use a lot of resources with those that use fewer. This averages out so you get effective use of your shared resources, even with lots of customers. Of course, there will be times when most customers are using a lot of resources. That’s why you design a multi-tenant environment with “headroom,” — room to grow — and use other control measures.

Examples of such control measures include managing how much work can be done at one time in order to spread out load spikes. The typical approach is to use queueing so that you can manage how much activity takes place at any given time. You also need to be able to elastically allocate more resources as needed (and de-allocate when no longer necessary).

There are other advantages as well. For example, with a multi-tenant architecture you can make software updates once and share them with everyone. Here’s a good discussion of multi-tenancy’s innate advantages — one of many such articles you can find online.

2. Security

The flip side of shared resources is security. Whenever you have customers sharing the same resources, you must ensure that everybody’s information is secure and that there’s no situation where one of your customers can get to somebody else’s information. So, day in and day out, security is concern number one for us and our customers.

When it comes to security, a true cloud, multi-tenant solution provides a greater level of security than on-premise installed software. When you look at traditional software practices, security is largely perimeter based. And that means once you get past the controls at the edge — the firewall, etc. — you’re in.

But at Boomi, we talk about a multi-layered security model. And that’s where multi-tenancy and tenant isolation comes into play. So even if a perimeter breach occurs — you’re in the building so to speak — each tenant has its own private key for data encryption. In addition, there are various industry standards and security certifications to which Boomi adheres that contribute to a secure environment.

We also provide the controls and tools for our customers to manage security, access, and authentication within their account. For example, we support custom roles so that customers can segment what people can and can’t do in the account. The ability to enforce different access controls within a tenant is very important, especially if an organization has to meet industry-specific requirements around certification or compliance.

3. Quality of Service

When you’re gaining the benefits of shared resources, you need to ensure that no customer monopolizes any resource. And that means setting controls on resource allocation. That’s one of the biggest learning curves for cloud service providers.

With thousands of customers, you can guarantee someone will accidentally or intentionally overuse a resource that’s not controlled. It’s what I call the Murphy’s Law of multi-tenancy. If you don’t manage it, they will abuse it.

Here’s a tip: if you want the benefits of a cloud service, you need a vendor who knows how to manage the chaos of shared services. It’s like living in a house with a lot of people. Someone must be in charge.

In our production cloud, we manage the number of processes a customer can run at one time. We also manage how much data customers can work with, how much tracking information they can record and send back to the platform, and how much historical information we maintain.

The cost of maintaining information increases over time. You get more customers and they do more work. You have to balance how much is useful to your customer versus the cost to maintain it.

4. Performance

Cloud services handle a variety of use cases, often aligned with a particular industry. But regardless of the use case, when organizations decide to use a cloud offering they necessarily give up some measure of control. To compensate for that, a cloud service should provide its customers with insight into the service’s performance.

The Boomi Trust site is how we fulfill that obligation. We are transparent with customers regarding the performance and availability of the Boomi AtomSphere Cloud. provides live and historical data on system performance, notifications on planned maintenance, and information on how we secure data. All this is to provide our customers with the visibility they need to understand the performance status of the Boomi cloud service.

5. Crowd-sourced Intelligence

With a true cloud platform, you can glean information from your user community that benefits everyone. When everybody is in their own silo, they can’t learn from anybody else; they can’t help anybody else. But, when everybody’s using a shared system, the system can learn by seeing how everyone is using the system.

Of course, there are data privacy issues, but they’re not insurmountable by any means. And, common sense plays a role here. Certainly, if customers don’t want to take part in crowdsourcing, they can opt out.

In terms of the information that we gather at Boomi, one concept that guides us is that if multiple people do something, it’s likely that we can learn from it and improve our service in a way that will be useful to the wider community. And if a lot of people are doing it, it probably doesn’t rely on proprietary information.

So, with the wisdom of the crowd, our customers can capture the best answers and most innovative ideas from the experienced Boomi user community. They don’t have to start from scratch or rely only on in-house knowledge.

Crowd-sourced intelligence is an opportunity that any cloud solution provider should take advantage of.

About the Author

James Ahlborn is chief software architect and a Distinguished Engineer at Boomi.