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Dustin Amrhein

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Standardization and Customization in the Cloud

The two go hand in hand

Maybe it is a misunderstanding, misperception or a myth, but it seems quite a few people make an incorrect assumption about standardization and customization when it comes to services delivered in the cloud. Specifically, the message I hear often from both providers and consumers seems to pit standardization and customization against each other, almost as if you can only have one or the other. This, of course, is wholly incorrect.

Seemingly, a lot of the confusion in the standardization/customization arena comes from the rhetoric often delivered around the different cloud delivery models. For instance, let's consider a common aspect of public cloud messaging. From my own personal experience, nearly every session or description I have listened to or read concerning a particular public cloud solution includes a bit about the delivery of a standardized set of services. This may seem a true enough message on the surface, but in fact, it is usually a bit misleading. More times than not, the more accurate message is that the public cloud solution delivers a minimally customized set of services. In other words, the public cloud solution delivers a set of services that appeal to a wide variety of users and use cases (as one would expect from the public cloud).

On the other hand, the talk around private cloud solutions tends to home in on customization. The messaging here is often that you can build whatever set of services you need, and then deliver them via a cloud environment. That may be true enough, but the problems start when you hear statements like, "This isn't like that standardized set of public cloud services, these are customized services that you can tailor to meet your company's needs." I have heard statements just like this in many different settings, from many different vendors to boot. I do not take issue with touting customization capabilities of a particular cloud solution (I do so all the time), but I do have a problem pitting that against standardization.

Simply put, standardization and customization are in no way mutually exclusive. I believe a lot of the confusion here comes from the fact that the industry ever used the phrase standardized services to describe assets delivered by the public cloud. If you think about it, it is ridiculous to say that either the public or private cloud can inherently deliver standardization. Only users can define and design their set of standardized services. They have to decide what their standard web server environment should look like or how to configure their standard operating system environment. In most cases, there is simply no way for a cloud provider to anticipate what is standard for a given user and use case.

In no way am I making an argument against the fact that the cloud enables standardization. In my mind, that is one of its chief benefits. The key though is that it enables standardization, not necessarily delivers it. Users have to decide what a standardized service is for them and their organization. This is nothing the cloud can anticipate for them.

The notion that only users can decide and design their set of standardized services also implies those services are customized. Users build and customize these services to fit their needs. Depending on the delivery model and the particular cloud solution, users can accomplish this in a variety of different ways, but the result remains the same. The user builds a set of customized services on which they can standardize within their organization, and then they deliver those services via the cloud.

Maybe I am the only one that perceives confusion around standardization and customization in the cloud. In that case, I just want to leave with one parting, summarizing thought: Customization and standardization work in conjunction to deliver enhanced user value for cloud-based services across all delivery models.

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Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.