Data center migration is ideal for businesses who are looking to exit or reduce on-premises data centers, migrate workloads as is, modernize apps, or leave another cloud. Executing migrations, however, is no small task, and as a result, there are many enterprise workloads that still run in on-premises data centers. Often technology leaders want to migrate more of their workloads and infrastructure to private or public cloud, but they are turned off by the seemingly complex processes and strategies involved in cloud migration, or lack the internal cloud skills necessary to make the transition.
Though data center migration can be a daunting business initiative, the benefits of moving to the cloud is well worth the effort, and the challenges of the migration process can be mitigated by creating a strategy, using the correct tools, and utilizing professional services. Data center migration provides a great opportunity to revise, rethink, and improve an organization’s IT architecture. It also ultimately impacts business critical drivers such as reducing capital expenditure, decreasing ongoing cost, improving scalability and elasticity, improving time-to-market, enacting digital transformation and attaining improvements in security and compliance.
What are Common Data Center Migration Challenges?
To ensure a seamless and successful migration to the cloud, businesses should be aware of the potential complexities and risks associated with data center migration. The complexities and risks are addressable, and if addressed properly, organizations can create not only an optimal environment for their migration project, but provide the launch point for business transformation.
Not Understanding Workloads
While cloud platforms are touted as flexible, it is a service-oriented resource, and it should be treated as such. To be successful in cloud deployment, organizations need to be aware of performance, compatibility, performance requirements (including hardware, software, and IOPS), required software, and adaptability to changes in their workloads. Teams need to run their cloud workloads on the cloud service that is best aligned with the needs of the application and the business.
Not Understanding Licensing
Cloud marketplaces allow businesses to easily “rent” software at an hourly rate. Though the ease of this purchase is enticing, it’s important to remember that it’s not the only option out there. Not all large vendors offer licensing mobility for all applications outside the operating system. In fact, companies should leverage existing relationships with licensing brokers. Just because a business is migrating to the cloud doesn’t mean that a business should abandon existing licensing channels. Organizations should familiarize themselves with their choices for licensing to better maximize ROI.
Not Looking for Opportunities to Incorporate PaaS
Platform as a service (PaaS) is a cloud computing model where a cloud service provider delivers hardware and software tools to users over the internet versus a build-it-yourself Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model. The PaaS provider abstracts everything—servers, networks, storage, operating system software, databases, development tools—enabling teams to focus on their application. This enables PaaS customers to build, test, deploy, run, update and scale applications more quickly and inexpensively than they could if they had to build out and manage an IaaS environment on top of their application. While businesses shouldn’t feel compelled to rewrite all their network configurations and operating environments, they should see where they can have quick PaaS wins to replace aging systems.
Not Proactively Preparing for Cloud Migration
Building a new data center is a major IT event and usually goes hand-in-hand with another significant business event, such as an acquisition, or outgrowing the existing data center. In the case of moving to a new on-premises data center, business will slow down as the company takes on a physical move. Migrating to the cloud is usually not coupled with an eventful business change, and as a result, business does not stop when a company chooses to migrate to the cloud. Therefore, a critical part of cloud migration success is designing the whole process as something that can run along with other IT changes that occur on the same timeline. Application teams frequently adopt cloud deployment practices months before their systems actually migrate to the cloud. By doing so, the team is ready before their infrastructure is even prepared, which makes cloud migration a much smoother event. Combining cloud events with other changes in this manner will maximize a company’s ability to succeed.
Treating and Running the Cloud Environment Like Traditional Data Centers
It seems obvious that cloud environments should be treated differently from traditional data centers, but this is actually a common pitfall for organizations to fall in. For example, preparing to migrate to the cloud should not include traditional data center services, like air conditioning, power supply, physical security, and other data center infrastructure, as a part of the planning. Again, this may seem very obvious, but if a business is used to certain practices, it can be surprisingly difficult to break entrenched mindsets and processes.
How to Plan for a Data Center Migration
While there are potential challenges associated with data center migration, the benefits of moving from physical infrastructures, enterprise data centers and/or on-premises data storage systems to a cloud data center or a hybrid cloud system is well worth the effort.
Now that we’ve gone over the potential challenges of data center migration, how do businesses enable a successful data center migration while effectively managing risk?
Below, we’ve laid out a repeatable high level migration strategy that is broken down into four phases: Discovery, Planning, Execution, and Optimization. By leveraging a repeatable framework as such, organizations create the opportunity to identify assets, minimize migration costs and risks using a multi-phased migration approach, enable deployment and configuration, and finally, optimize the end state.
Phase 1: Discovery
During the Discovery phase, companies should understand and document the entire data center footprint. This means understanding the existing hardware mapping, software applications, storage layers (databases, file shares), operating systems, networking configurations, security requirements, models of operation (release cadence, how to deploy, escalation management, system maintenance, patching, virtualization, etc.), licensing and compliance requirements, as well as other relevant assets.
The objective of this phase is to have a detailed view of all relevant assets and resources of the current data center footprint.
The key milestones in the Discovery phase are:
- Creating a shared data center inventory footprint: Every team and individual who is a part of the data center migration to the cloud should be aware of the assets and resources that will go live.
- Sketching out an initial cloud platform foundations design: This involves identifying centralized concepts of the cloud platform organization such as folder structure, Identity and Access Management (IAM) model, network administration model, and more.
As a best practice, companies should engage in cross-functional dialogue within their organizations, including teams from IT to Finance to Program Management, ensuring everyone is aligned on changes to support future cloud processes. Furthermore, once a business has migrated from a physical data center to the cloud, they should consider whether their data center team is trained to support the systems and infrastructure of the cloud provider.
Phase 2: Planning
When a company is entering the Planning phase, they are leveraging the assets and deliverables gathered in the Discovery phase to create migration waves to be sequentially deployed into non-production and production environments.
Typically, it is best to target non-production migration waves first, which helps identify the sequence of waves to migrate first. To start, consider the following:
- Mapping the current server inventory to the cloud platform’s machine types: Each current workload will generally run on a virtual machine type with similar computing power, memory and disk. Oftentimes though, the current workload is overprovisioned, so each workload should be evaluated to ensure that it is migrated onto the right VM for that given workload.
- Timelines: Businesses should lay out their target dates for each migration project.
- Workloads in each grouping: Figure out what migration waves are grouped by i.e. non-production vs. production applications.
- Cadence of code releases: Factor in any upcoming code releases as this may impact the decision of whether to migrate sooner or later.
- Time for infrastructure deployment and testing: Allocate adequate time for testing infrastructures before fully moving over to the cloud.
- Number of application dependencies: Migration order should be influenced by the number of application dependencies. The applications with the fewest dependencies are generally good candidates for migration first. In contrast, wait to migrate an application that depends on multiple databases.
- Migration complexity and risk: Migration order should also take complexity into consideration. Tackling simpler aspects of the migration first will generally yield a more successful migration.
As mentioned above, the best practice for migration waves is to start with more predictable and simple workloads. For instance, companies should start with migrating file shares first, then databases and domain controlled, and save the apps for last. However, sometimes the complexity and dependencies don’t allow for a straightforward migration. In these cases, utilizing an experienced service provider who has experience with these complex environments will be prudent.
Phase 3: Execution
Once companies have developed a plan, they can bring them to fruition in the Execution phase. Here, businesses will need to be deliberate about the steps they take and the configurations they develop.
In the Execution phase, companies will put into place infrastructure components and ensure they are configured appropriately, like IAM, networking, firewall rules, and Service Accounts. Here is also where teams should test the applications on the infrastructure configurations to ensure that they have access to their databases, file shares, web servers, load balancers, Active Directory servers and more. Execution also includes using logging and monitoring to ensure applications continue to function with the necessary performance.
In order for the Execution phase to be successful, there needs to be agile application debugging and testing. Moreover, organizations should have both a short and long term plan for resolving blockers that may come up during the migration. The Execution phase is iterative and the goal should be to ensure that applications are fully tested on the new infrastructure.
Phase 4: Optimization
The last phase of a data center migration project is Optimization. After a business has migrated their workloads to the cloud, they should conduct periodic review and planning to optimize the workloads. Optimization includes the following activities:
- Resizing machine types and disks
- Leveraging a software like Terraform for more agile and predictable deployments
- Improving automation to reduce operational overhead
- Bolstering integration with logging, monitoring, and alerting tools
- Adopting managed services to reduce operational overhead
Cloud services provide visibility into resource consumption and spend, and organizations can more easily identify the compute resources they are paying for. Additionally, businesses can identify virtual machines they need or don’t need. By migrating from a traditional data center environment to a cloud environment, teams will be able to more easily optimize their workloads due to the powerful tools that cloud platforms provide.
How do I take the first step in data center migration?
While undertaking a full data center migration is a significant project, it is worthwhile. The migration framework we’ve provided can help any business break down the process into manageable stages and move fully to the cloud.
When you’re ready to take the first step, we’re here to help to make the process even easier. Contact a 2nd Watch advisor today to get started with your data center migration to the cloud.