What is N-Tier and Why is it Important to the Evolving IT Ecosystem?

Robyn Itule
Published in
4 min readMar 15


Have you ever been given an explanation of “n-tier” and had your eyes roll back in your head from confusion? You’re not alone! It’s a complex topic, but our technology experts are here to break it down for you.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The traditional distribution model we’re familiar with is based on a fixed, hierarchical supply chain starting with the vendor, then the distributor, then the reseller, then the customer. But as we witness the Evolution of Channel Technology, we see that business demands are becoming more complex with many of the delivery models transitioning from physical to virtual. “Fixed” and “hierarchical” architectures will need to evolve in the future.[FS1]

In this new era of IT distribution, the “n-tier” concept is at the core of addressing those changing demands.

What exactly is N-tier?

N-tier architecture is also known as multi-tier architecture. The “n” in the name n-tier architecture refers to any number. Whether it’s 2-tier, 3-tier, 4-tier — it doesn’t matter. Each tier is a layer of partners or customers in the supply chain. And the relationships do not need to fall into typical parent-child relationships.

Advantages of n-tier architecture include:

· Scalable — Scale separate tiers without touching other tiers.

· Flexible — Expands in any way according to requirements.

· Secure — Each tier can be secured separately and in different ways.

· Easy to manage — You can manage each tier separately, adding or modifying each tier without affecting the other tiers.[FS2]

In short, with n-tier architecture, you can add new tiers using a common, single source of data. This means less manipulation and issues with data integrity, thus making it easier to scale and maintain. It allows all parties to access a single platform to provide a complete view of their usage.

N-tier architecture mimics the supply chain model in the physical world — with reporting and lifecycle management capabilities included for all tiers.

Real World Applications of N-Tier

Sounds great in theory, right? But what does n-tier mean to the average platform user? We already know that n-tier architecture allows producers and consumers to transact fluidly in the IT ecosystem, but how does n-tier benefit participants in the traditional distribution model, still very much a driving force?

A flexible multi-tier account structure provides users with the ability to define custom pricing, charges, discounts, and budget alerts for any group at any level. Here’s an example:

Enterprise ABC consumes 100 cloud accounts at $X. However, they want to see the usage by different business units, departments and specific teams. This is so they can allocate (or “chargeback”) the organization’s overall spend to the departments that use them. They also want to set different prices, with discounts and markups by department.

With n-tier architecture, users can set up as many tiers they want, so they can see billing and usage at different levels for tracking and chargeback purposes. Each tier would be able to access the data that is relevant to them on their own billing and usage.

N-tier management example.

In a 2-tier only platform, the granularity of tracking by business unit, department, and teams would be lost; they would all be lumped together in one “customer” tier. It’s a very manual process to scrape any specific data.

Greg Small, Regional Lead — Cloud Platform Services in Asia Pacific and Japan and Platform Specialist at TD SYNNEX explained:

“The main benefit for users is a shift from reliance on PDF invoices and Excel spreadsheets to being able to get data online in close to real time. With n-tier, customers have visibility and transparency at their level.”

Self-Service is the Key

Since its inception in 2014, the TD SYNNEX platform, StreamOne®, was built on an n-tier foundation. The platform’s unmatched configurable architecture provides the trademark n-tier flexibility and self-service functionality to support new business models.

Dan Allaby, VP, Global Enterprise Cloud Platforms, at TD SYNNEX describes it this way:

“N-tier provides the fundamental ability to service our partners’ needs with a focus on self-service. It’s about providing capabilities for partners to interact with us and to engage directly their customers.”

Out of the box, StreamOne® can stand up a partner portal for end users to login and view, order, bill usage consumption. End users don’t need to rely on contacting their partner rep for this information.

A Bridge to the Future

In a recent white paper, The Arrival of the Ecosystem Orchestration Platform: An Almost Perfect Storm, IDC Analyst Steve White recognizes the importance of n-tier architecture, as well as the StreamOne® architecture.

“[StreamOne®]is flexible, enabling a partner to transact from one tier or two tiers to numerous tiers (n-tiers) to a multipoint capability linking -multi-vendors and multi-partners.”

The vision of StreamOne® evolution involves expanding on the platform’s n-tier capabilities to connect vendors, resellers, and customers to support the transaction of services across the entire IT ecosystem.

To hear more from IDC on this subject, click here. To learn more about StreamOne®, visit our website.

This piece is contributed by: Jessica Warmath, Global GTM Manager-Platform at TD SYNNEX.

Jessica is a business development and strategic marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in technology distribution.