What Is Cloud Migration? +Benefits, Challenges, Strategies

Cloud migration is rapidly becoming a hot topic for companies of all sizes. Flexera conducted a survey of technical professionals and found that 58% of respondents place a high priority on moving workloads into the cloud, and 39% are already working toward a cloud-first strategy.

But what do organizations actually mean when they talk about cloud migration? Simply put, cloud migration is when a company moves its data and applications into a cloud-based platform. This means the data and applications can be accessed from anywhere rather than being hosted by an on-site server connected to on-site computers.

However, when digging deeper, the definition becomes slightly more complicated. There are several different types of cloud migration to choose from, and each one carries its own advantages and best practices. Read further to understand each type and choose the right cloud migration strategy for your organization.

What Is Cloud Migration?

Cloud migration is the process of a company moving all or part of its data, applications, and workloads and moves them to a cloud-based platform like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services and is an example of a digital transformation initiative. Cloud migration can involve moving data from one cloud platform to another or moving it from on-premise servers to cloud-based servers and is one step in the overall cloud transformation process.

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4 Benefits of Cloud Migration

There are a number of benefits associated with cloud migration.

1. Easier and faster to scale

It’s much easier and faster to scale up with cloud-based applications. Scaling within the cloud doesn’t require purchasing new physical servers or equipment, and you can quickly purchase more storage and software capacity to meet rising demand.

2. More cost-effective

On-demand scaling also makes cloud migration more cost-effective. You can keep a minimal set of nodes up during low-traffic times and scale when needed, so you don’t run at peak capacity unless you have high traffic. Over the course of five years, on-premise storage will cost around $32 per TB per month.

By comparison, even some of the more expensive cloud storage only costs around $23 per TB per month, and the per-TB cost can even decrease as you purchase more storage.

If you have a fairly steady workload you can save even more with Reserved Instances. With Reserved Instances you are locked into a specific amount of computing power for a set period of time, but you can save up to 70%, depending on the contract length and whether you pay in advance.

3. It's more secure

Another advantage of cloud migration is that it tends to be more secure because of its distributed nature. Different applications and types of data are stored in different sections of the platform, so there’s no single point of failure.

4. The cloud is accessible anywhere

Finally, migrating to the cloud makes it easier to manage and coordinate with customers and employees in different geographic locations since applications can be accessed from anywhere without having to transfer files or data.

Potential Challenges of Cloud Migration

As you start to plan your cloud migration, there are a few potential challenges you should be aware of.

1. Slow training & user adoption

One of the most significant is that your employees and customers will need to be trained on the new platform, and this can slow down the technology adoption process. Slow adoption is a significant issue — you’ll only see the benefits of cloud migration if your company and customers actually use the new platform. You can address this challenge by using a digital adoption platform to make training simpler and speed up the adoption process.

2. Easy to go over budget

Though the wide variety of software and upgrade options are an advantage of cloud migration, they can also make it easy to go over budget. To stay on track, implement spend management controls based on your current data needs. Reevaluate your needs at regular, scheduled intervals to see if your budget or spend management practices need to be adjusted.

3. Data migration challenges

One other challenge is in the data portion of your cloud migration. Some applications are dependent on other applications or pieces of software, and they won’t work properly unless you move these applications to the cloud in cohort groups.

You can avoid this issue altogether through application dependency mapping. Map which applications are dependent on one another before moving any data – and then transfer groups of applications together.

Cloud migration has many benefits, and by planning ahead for potential challenges, you can maximize those benefits and make the cloud migration process as smooth as possible.

6 Types of Cloud Migration

There are several different types of cloud migration, and they vary depending on where the data is moving from and how it is being moved. These common types of cloud migration are also known as “the 6 R’s of cloud migration”.

Here are each of the six types of cloud migration, as well as the benefits and business reasons why an organization would be using each type of cloud migration.

1. Retiring

Before you actually move your data, you should take inventory of your infrastructure and applications and turn off sections that are completely outdated or no longer necessary.

Retiring is especially useful for well-established companies that have extremely old and/or obsolete versions of applications still stored on their servers. By retiring these servers and applications, you have less data to move, which speeds up your cloud migration. It’s also more cost-effective because you aren’t paying to transfer or store applications you don’t need.

2. Rehosting

Also known as the lift-and-shift method, rehosting is when you simply copy data and applications into the cloud platform with no changes. Lift-and-shift is one of the fastest methods of cloud migration because you are simply transferring data, and you don’t have to allow time for any modifications before beginning the cloud migration. The exact time frame for rehosting will depend on the amount of data and applications you’re moving, but rehosting multiple servers can be done in under two months.

The major downside of rehosting is you can’t use many cloud-native features, like CI/CD automation, automatic data recovery, and monitoring systems. However, rehosting is still a great option for large companies that want to scale quickly and need to move large amounts of data and applications in a short time frame.

3. Replatforming

Replatforming is similar to rehosting except that you make some changes to the operating system and applications to optimize them for the cloud migration before actually moving them. For example, instead of simply transferring your entire database to the cloud, you might move the data from your existing database into a relational database that your cloud provider manages.

Replatforming takes a little longer than rehosting because you need extra time to modify the applications before moving, but since the modifications are minor, it is still a quick method of cloud migration. The exact time frame varies depending on the application and what modifications you are making, but relatively speaking, it is not significantly more time-intensive than rehosting.

The core app functionality remains the same throughout this type of cloud migration, but the minor modifications allow you to take advantage of cloud-native features. Some modifications can require changing the base code of the application, so be sure you test it thoroughly for functionality after migrating the application to the cloud.

4. Repurchasing

Repurchasing involves moving your data from one product to another. This can either be switching from one cloud-based platform to another or from an on-premise legacy system to a cloud-based platform.

Companies often use this method to switch to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform. For example, if a company switched from their on-premise CRM to a cloud-based CRM like Salesforce, it would be an example of repurchasing.

5. Refactoring

Refactoring is the most change-intensive type of cloud migration. It often involves moving basic data and building cloud-native versions of applications from scratch in the new platform. The biggest advantage of this type of cloud migration is it gives you full, complete use of any available cloud-native features. Cloud-native applications are typically developed and released faster because of the ability to automate CI/CD and other development and deployment features.

Refactoring is far more complex than either rehosting or replatforming. It involves changing the components, the data storage setup, and the underlying code of an application to make it completely cloud-native. The depth of the changes means you need input from IT professionals and developers to ensure the final cloud-based application has all the requested features and functionality.

You are basically re-creating each application as a cloud-native application, and the amount of coding involved makes refactoring the most expensive and time-consuming cloud migration option. Three to six months is not uncommon for refactoring.

This cloud migration option is best for companies that want to rework or re-engineer their product and add cloud-specific features, or for companies that want to scale dramatically and need to adjust their product in order to do so. For example, Tabulate used this type of cloud migration to move to a microservices structure. The move required a complete rework of their product, but they can now roll out new features much faster.

6. Retaining

Also known as the hybrid model, this type of cloud migration is when a company moves some applications to the cloud but keeps some on-premise. For example, if you have data with strict security and compliance requirements, you don’t want to move it to the cloud unnecessarily and risk a data breach during transfer.

Retaining can also be a cost-effective option if you have legacy applications you aren’t using but plan to upgrade in the future. You already paid for the on-premise server you’re currently using for storage, and cloud-based storage is paid for per GB or TB, so there’s no reason to pay extra for unnecessary cloud storage now. You can always move the applications at a later date if you decide to upgrade them.

A hybrid model is also useful for handling short-term traffic surges. You can scale up your cloud services during the surge, and then scale back down to mainly use the on-premise servers when traffic is low.

Before choosing what type of cloud migration is best for you, evaluate what data and applications your company plans to move and what level of cloud functionality you want your applications to have. Each type has its own pros and cons, but all of them provide cloud computing’s increased speed and ease of access.

4 Types of Cloud Management

Your first step is to decide what processes you want to control in-house and what you want your cloud service provider to take care of. There are three main bases you can use for your cloud migration strategy.

1. Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is ideal for companies that want to manage their applications and software in-house. With IaaS, the service provider manages the infrastructure, including the physical servers and storage capabilities. You, as the subscriber, are responsible for installing, configuring, and managing your own software.

IaaS is highly flexible. You pay only for the storage and software you use, and you can easily scale up or down with demand.

Some examples of IaaS providers include:

2. Platform as a Service

The second option is a platform as a service (PaaS). A PaaS provider manages all of the infrastructure, as well as for analytics, databases, and operating systems. Basically, PaaS offers completely managed cloud solutions in which you can build and manage your own software.

Since enterprise applications built using a PaaS provider are in the cloud, they are widely available to employees and customers in different physical locations. PaaS allows high levels of software customization, because you build it yourself, but without the coding or infrastructure management required in traditional software building.

Some examples of PaaS providers include:

3. Software as a Service

The final is a software as a service (SaaS). This is the most common choice for businesses migrating to the cloud. With SaaS, the provider manages all technical aspects, from applications and upgrades to analytics and infrastructure.

Applications are delivered to users via the internet and can typically be accessed in a browser, so there is no downloading or installation required. Major SaaS providers include Google GSuiteSalesforce, and GoToMeeting.

When planning your cloud migration services, consider what you’ll be moving to the cloud and where you want your applications to be developed. Any of these options will take basic infrastructure management away from your IT team, freeing them up to focus on big-picture tasks, such as software development.

How to Build a Cloud Migration Strategy in 5 Steps

Once you’ve chosen your service provider, you can lay out your strategy so you and your team know what to expect. As you develop your plan, there are a few actions you can take to ensure that the move is smooth, complete, and as timely as possible.

1. Map your application dependencies

Applications don’t operate in a vacuum. Part of your strategy should be mapping which applications are dependent on one another so they can all be migrated together. Interdependent applications won’t work properly if migrated separately. For example, if an application pulls information from a particular database, it has to be migrated with that database.

Improperly migrated applications might have to be moved over again, which slows down the whole process and reduces productivity. To prevent this, create an application dependency map so you can see which applications are communicating with each other and then migrate them into groups.

Your application dependency map will look different depending on the mapping service you use. Here’s an example from Site24x7.

You can clearly see application groups and their related databases. If this was your map, your cloud migrations would include moving all the applications in the “MYSQL” cluster together with the MYSQL database. Mapping your application dependencies this way will help ensure your applications work properly after they’re moved to the cloud.

2. Create a detailed timetable

Creating a detailed timetable at the beginning of your cloud migrations will keep you on track and indicate if you fall behind. The length of the time frame will depend on factors like how much data you’re moving to.

It could take as little as a few weeks if you’re moving only one or two small servers. On the other hand, large databases take much longer to move. It took Netflix eight years to completely migrate to the cloud.

A few months is a more reasonable timeline to set than eight years, typically. As you make your timetable, set dates for migrating each set of data, as well as major dates like when the project should be completed, and when you plan to shut down your old system and exclusively use the cloud. Your exact steps will depend on the type of service you use. An IaaS cloud migration strategy, for example, won’t include a shutdown of the old system.

If you have a timeline and find yourself constantly adjusting and pushing back dates as you go, you know there’s an issue (or multiple issues) with the migration. Now you can address the problem and get back on track so your migration is as quick as possible.

3. Identify your cybersecurity needs

Cloud services are distributed by nature, which means they’re more secure since there’s no single point that can fail and bring down the system. However, security during the migration process needs to be part of your migration process.

Before starting the migration, rank your data sets in terms of security level. Migrate low-security data first so you can look for security gaps without exposing sensitive information. Consider whether data needs to be encrypted at either end of the transfer. Once your data is transferred, set up permanent cloud firewalls to protect the transferred data.

You also need to understand compliance requirements for your data and set your security accordingly. For example, health care systems and the companies that work with them have to follow HIPAA compliance requirements. HIPAA security requires encryption and decryption of sensitive patient information, so you would have to include appropriate security measures to stay compliant.

4. Start small

Plan to move your data a little at a time rather than trying to do it all at once. Migrating your data in small groups gives you more opportunity for testing to be sure the migration is successful and there are no data or security gaps.

Start with smaller, independent applications that don’t have a lot of dependencies. Once you’re sure those were migrated successfully, move on to larger server groups. After each move, make sure the applications can successfully function in the cloud before moving the next data set. Moving your data in pieces ensures that if there are issues, you only have to redo small amounts of data instead of completely start over.

5. Regularly monitor your migration progress

Finally, your strategy should include regular monitoring. After every step in the process, check your data for issues with the migration.

Check each application within the new system for the following:

  • Complete functionality
  • Complete transfer of data
  • Data integrity
  • Data retrievability
  • Data security

When you’re sure an application or data set is secure, functional, and easily retrievable by users, then you can migrate the next set. Regular monitoring will show you functionality and migration issues early on, so you can pause the migration and address the issue before it affects a larger subset of the data.

Including these steps will help keep you on track so you can successfully migrate your data in an efficient and timely manner.

Make Your Cloud Migration Easier with Digital Adoption Tools

Cloud migration has a lot of advantages, like lower costs and improved scalability. You can tailor your cloud migration to fit your company, moving as much or as little of your existing infrastructure and applications as you need.

One thing that every type of cloud migration has in common is that it involves adopting new technology. This applies to every digital transformation initiative.  You will need to train your employees and customers to use the cloud-based platform.

An excellent method for increasing end-user adoption is to use a digital adoption platform (DAP) like Whatfix. DAPs walk users through the learning process so that your cloud migration is successful and productive as quickly as possible. Schedule a demo with Whatfix’s product experts to learn more.

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