ServiceNow Domain Separation vs. Separate Instance: Which is Best For Your Business?

Do you have multiple entities or units within your enterprise and want to enforce data separation between them? Do you want to have a centralized reporting system for multiple customers in a single instance of a software/application? If yes, then you need to know more about Multi-tenant architecture (Read: Domain Separation).

A multi-tenant architecture is where you have a single instance of software serving multiple tenants (Read: Customers).

An example of a multi-tenant architecture would be Shopify, where each registered user shares the same central database but is still isolated from other users.

Let’s take a simple scenario. Imagine an apartment complex where you rent spaces or apartments to multiple different tenants. Now each of those tenants has their isolated space which is private and secured within the apartment complex and is detached from other tenants. Domain separation works almost in the same manner.
ServiceNow Domain Separation

ServiceNow, which has been helping enterprises immensely through intelligent solutions that leverage Machine Learning (ML) and AI, offers domain separation configured within its instance for better management and operational efficiencies.

Read further to comprehensively understand the possibilities with ServiceNow Domain Separation and its overall impact.

Want to manage multiple clients’ data & IT service requests on a single platform? Talk to our ServiceNow Experts to learn more about Domain Separation.

How Does ServiceNow Domain Separation Work?

ServiceNow provides a plugin to service providers to activate domain separation on their developer instance. Service providers can onboard various customers faster on their single ServiceNow instance.
This enables control over multiple customer reports and operations from a single instance and allows logical separation of customer data and personalized user interfaces. It is beneficial to those enterprises who want to maintain global processes and global reporting for all customers in a single instance.
What is Logical Separation?
Logical Separation is where the customer data and processes are separated from other users but ultimately the entire data is stored in the centralized system of ServiceNow.
This tenant management system enables service providers to maintain one instance and charge each customer according to their licensing costs. Also, when sharing a ServiceNow instance with multiple customers, it becomes essential to have all customer records stored in the instance.
Customers onboarded on a shared ServiceNow instance by a service provider can experience a secured environment and are guaranteed privacy. They can see only the data based on how their visibility settings are configured.

If you take the previous apartment complex scenario, each tenant would have a door and a lock for their house. This way, their personal space is safeguarded from intruders or other tenants, subsequently allowing them to have more privacy and security.

Domain separation allows one domain’s data to be visible to another domain based on “contains” rules during specific circumstances. The instance administration is given to the global and top domains. The service provider usually owns the top domain and would have control over every other sub-domains. And the rules, processes, and administrative tasks for all the top and the sub-domains would be fixed by the global domain. These rules and processes that are decided by global domains are overridden at top domains as per the requirements for specific domains.
ServiceNow Domain Separation
When a new customer is onboarded, they should be assigned to the top domain and not the global domain to ensure a parent-child relationship. That said, it becomes essential to set up a top default domain in the domain hierarchy so that the new user records get assigned to it – the default domain, which wouldn’t have any active users who would have access to the new user records. Otherwise, the new records would go to the global domain, where they will be visible to every other user.

What are the Potential Drawbacks of Domain Separation?

  • Once domain separation is activated in your instance, it can only be disabled or deactivated and cannot be reversed.
  • Setting up domain separation would require continuous monitoring of the process and ensuring proper configuration so that users are assigned to specific domains and have limited visibility. (That’s where expert service providers like KANINI come to play. You can get up to 40 admin hours, even for less than 40 licenses with us.)
  • Domain separation may not be supported for every application in its initial release.
  • Domain separation which is administered by service providers, may not be suitable for customers who want to have their own roadmaps and manage their processes and configuration.
Though ServiceNow domain separation can help manage multiple customers on a single instance, it may not be the right choice for everyone. In such cases, a separate ServiceNow instance would be an appropriate solution.

So what is a separate ServiceNow instance and how do you choose between ServiceNow domain separation and a separate ServiceNow instance?

ServiceNow Separate Instance

Taking the previous scenario, if ServiceNow domain separation is similar to an apartment complex, a separate ServiceNow instance can be related to a standalone household.

A separate ServiceNow instance is an alternative to domain separation. It refers to an infrastructure that is designed for a single customer, allowing each customer to have separate applications and databases.

Here’s How a Global Supplier of Technology & Services Streamlined the Management of Multiple Clients’ Data & IT Service Requests – Read Case Study

ServiceNow Domain Separation vs ServiceNow Separate Instance: Decision-Making Criteria

The choice between domain separation and a separate instance of ServiceNow depends on the customers’ requirements and various other factors.

Here are the four major factors that can help an enterprise decide between these two solutions :

1. Size of Enterprises and Business Processes

Domain Separation is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it mainly depends on the size of the business and the nature of its operations.

ServiceNow Domain Separation can be beneficial for small and medium-sized enterprises where the workflows may not be too complex and their requirements may not be too volatile. If these enterprises have basic operations that involve implementing incident management or problem management and do not include extended ServiceNow modules, domain separation would be a good fit.

Whereas for large enterprises with varied needs and complex business processes, and a future possibility of additional integration requirements, choosing a separate ServiceNow instance that addresses personalized requirements would be beneficial. A separate instance would enable more control in terms of customization and create a more isolated environment with separate databases.

2. Affordability

One of the major factors that determine the decision between domain separation and a separate instance is the cost involved.
Domain separation is a more economical option compared to a separate instance. The setup, maintenance, and support costs are minimal and shared across instances, and the providers would usually handle these functions.
In the case of a separate ServiceNow instance, the setup, deployment, and maintenance costs involved are higher and may not be very pocket-friendly for certain small or medium-sized companies. Enterprises with a large capital can consider a separate ServiceNow instance.

3. Security and Privacy

Domain-separated environment guarantees security, ensuring all privacy, as long as we have the instance configured very well. This is why it’s extremely important to work with experienced admins to ensure the settings are configured to your tailored needs to avoid unauthorized access.
On the other hand, a separate ServiceNow instance is solely for one user, and the control elements are assigned to that customer alone. And by nature, since it’s not a multi-tenant architecture there is a reduced probability of data breaches.

4. Urgency

The decision between domain separation and a separate ServiceNow instance also depends on whether an enterprise wants to deploy the required solution immediately or is prepared to give it some time.

Domain separation is a good option for enterprises that have immediate requirements. It is easy to set up and the onboarding process is pretty swift. However, for those organizations that can afford to give it time, service providers can help them transit smoothly to a separate ServiceNow instance that can be structured according to their specific business requirements.

Wrapping Up

ServiceNow domain separation helps enterprises optimize their costs and performance with multi-tenancy support in a single ServiceNow instance. Enterprises that want to maintain a global reporting system and isolate data and processes across multiple business entities can benefit from domain separation. But just like any solution, both domain separation and separate instances have their advantages and drawbacks.

KANINI is a ServiceNow premier partner and an experienced Managed Service Provider (MSP) that has been helping enterprises with the seamless implementation of ServiceNow solutions and advanced operational strategies for improved business outcomes. Reach out to us at to know more about how we can help your business grow with ServiceNow solutions.


Manpreet Chadha
Manpreet Chadha is a ServiceNow Implementation Specialist and ITIL Expert. She is passionate about aligning ITIL process efforts from design to implementation, operations, and service improvement. As a certified PMP, Manpreet utilizes IT Service Management best practices, tools, and methodologies to develop cost-effective solutions that satisfy business requirements.
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