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What is a Cloud Migration?

What is Cloud Migration? Benefits, Process, and Tools

Cloud migration is the act of moving data, applications, software, and other business workloads from on-premises to the cloud. It could also mean moving these functions from one cloud computing environment or provider to another. This is called cloud-to-cloud migration. 

Investment in cloud migration is only growing. 71% of organizations globally are planning to move more functions to the cloud in the next 12 months. And although cloud migration is commonly assumed to be the migration of applications, this year, migrating databases will be the most common cloud migration use case.

If you are looking to migrate your data, applications, and other software to the cloud, this guide will cover everything you need to know to get started. We will cover:

4 cloud migration deployment models

There are four types of cloud configurations that you can transfer your functions to. They are public, private, hybrid, and multi-cloud.

A public cloud is cloud computing offered to multiple customers by a third-party provider, and it is accessed by customers over the internet or a dedicated connection. Each customer has isolated usage, however, so data is not shared. Popular cloud providers include Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud.

A private cloud is cloud computing resources that are exclusively available to one organization. This can be an on-site data center hosted by that same organization for all their users to access globally, or it can be hosted by a third-party provider. But only that organization can access it.

A hybrid cloud environment is the use of both an on-premises data center (this could be a private cloud) and public cloud infrastructure to host an organization’s data, applications, and software. 

A multi-cloud environment is when you use the services of multiple cloud vendors. 

The model you choose for your organization will depend on the strategies you choose for hosting your databases, software, and applications. We will cover your strategy options a bit later in this guide.



6 benefits of moving to the cloud

At least six key factors influence most organizations’ choice to migrate to the cloud from on-premises. Just a few of the reasons you might choose to migrate include the ability to modernize your environment, huge scalability, fast provisioning, reduced costs, seamless upgrades, and fast access to innovation in tech.

Modernization

64% of US infrastructure decision-makers at enterprises called out modernization as a top IT/operations priority over the next 12 months. Maintaining a competitive edge by keeping up is essential. Migrating workloads, data, and applications to the cloud provides the perfect opportunity to upgrade and modernize your applications and data stores. Then you can offer internal and external end users all the benefits of the cloud and cloud-first applications and services. 

Massive scalability in the cloud

When you store all your data, software, and applications on-premises, you have a physical limit on your storage capacity and therefore your ability to scale. You are limited to the size of data centers and server rooms that your physical location permits. But you will need to scale for internal use and to serve your customers as you grow.

Rather than purchasing extra physical premises that you have to pay for and manage, migrating to the cloud outsources the storage and provisioning of your software, applications, and data so you can purchase as much storage as you need. 

Flexibility: scale up and down

Hand-in-hand with scalability is the ability to be flexible. With on-premises infrastructure, you will pay for operating and maintaining what you have whether you use it all or not. When you have spikes in demand for your software and application and in accessing data, you need to have the capacity to handle those. But capacity becomes redundant outside of the spikes.

If you migrate to the cloud, you have the flexibility to scale capacity up and down as you need and only pay for what you use. 

Enhanced performance from dedicated providers

With your assets in the cloud, you can enhance the performance of your data warehouses and lakes, analytics, applications, and more. Your cloud provider should constantly invest in optimizing servers that are regularly and seamlessly upgraded. Their performance means your internal and external services can operate optimally to improve the experiences for your end users. 

Reduced costs 

Trying to reduce costs is a large part of cloud migration incentives. When you don’t have to purchase and then also maintain your own servers and the staff required to do that, you can save costs. Plus, because scalability is flexible and costs are based on usage, you can scale your costs with provisioning needs. 

However, you need to accurately calculate all the costs involved in migrating data, software, and applications to the cloud as well as maintaining those in the cloud to make sure you will see sufficient ROI in a realistic time frame.

Improved security

Security is now constantly at the top of the list of requirements for IT projects. Migrating to the cloud can help you secure your data and applications further as most cloud providers have dedicated security teams working to keep your data and applications secure. You get encryption of your data and redundancy (multiple backups) as standard. Plus, server security updates are automatic so you have less to maintain. 

Do note, though, that you will still need to follow all the best practice procedures for security internally. You can’t fully outsource security.


7 common cloud migration challenges

Migrating to the cloud is not always simple. Like any large IT project, there are multiple moving parts, competing priorities, and constraints on budgets, time, and resources. Here are a few of the challenges you may face so you can address them before you start the cloud migration process. 

Choosing the best cloud vendor(s)

Each cloud vendor has its benefits and drawbacks. Before you simply select the most popular option, it’s worth doing your due diligence. 

Security is an important factor in your choice of cloud provider. They need to offer strong security processes. Next, think about your long-term usage. Will this vendor give you the flexibility to grow and scale as you need across a range of functions? Do they integrate well with your existing environment? And do they provide total visibility so you can optimize your environment and monitor key performance metrics? Make sure you also avoid vendor lock-in so you always have the option of switching providers. 

Choosing the best team and migration partner

It can be incredibly helpful to get cloud migration expertise on board to help you through the process. They have seen it done before and can help you avoid common pitfalls and suggest how to optimize the process. Often, your internal teams don’t have all the skills needed, but you will need them on board with the project as they are the experts in your current environment.

When looking for a migration partner, look for one with expertise in both your chosen cloud vendor(s) and in the particular workloads you are choosing to migrate. Plus, they need to truly understand your business objectives to help you achieve them.

Also, ask potential cloud migration partners about their security procedures and how they take responsibility for those. Checking their data loss and breach notification processes can shed light on whether they’re aligned with your organization’s risk appetite. 

Keep your data consistent throughout your migration

One of the biggest factors in the success and speed of your cloud migration is agile data governance. It’s critical that data access, policies, and metadata remain consistent throughout because data is the foundation of all your stores, applications, and functions. If the data gets corrupted or lost, you lose valuable insights.

First, understand the value of the data you have before you migrate to the cloud so you can prioritize what’s most important. Then, catalog your data analysis, business questions, and data governance so you can track and maintain its use throughout and after the migration. Finally, audit your data by tracing its lineage from source systems to integration with your cloud data store. This gives you full visibility. 


To do all this best, you’ll need a data catalog. data.world’s enterprise data catalog can help ensure business continuity and visibility at every stage of the migration process.

Lifting and shifting without a strategy

You need a separate, documented strategy for every data store, app, and software product you plan to migrate to the cloud. Without one, you can end up lifting and shifting what should have been refactored, or trying to connect on-premises data with cloud-based software only to discover there’s no interoperability. 

Note that moving large databases to the cloud can be particularly challenging. Some databases would take too long to transfer over the internet so some providers offer a physical data transfer method - shipping a hardware appliance with the data on it to the cloud provider. 

Take a look at the 5Rs of cloud migration to choose the best strategies for your organization.

Data, apps, and software not performing as well in the cloud

You don’t need to migrate everything to the cloud, and not everything should be migrated. You need to assess each database, application, etc. for how well it operates currently and whether that would, in reality, be improved in the cloud. Consider performance, costs, migration resources, interoperability, and your objectives for each asset. Some workloads are simply better suited to be on-premises. Which ones they are will depend on your own environment. So it’s also worth having a cloud exit strategy in place in case you need to reverse the migration.

A cloud data migration strategy can help you assess your data needs and create a prioritized backlog of data and metadata assets to move when the time is right. 

Unexpected costs and going over budget

Gartner predicts that 60% of organizations will encounter public cloud cost overruns in the next two years. But these surprises can be avoided. Consider every stage of the cloud migration process, from the POC and ongoing costs of on-premises through the duration of the migration process to the post-migration costs of monitoring and staff training. Find out more about the types of costs you will encounter in the section below on calculating your costs. 

Training staff

Finally, once you’ve got everything you need in the cloud, you may need to upskill staff in how to manage workloads in the cloud. It’s no good if you get all the way through the process of cloud migration but your staff is ill-equipped to maintain the initiative. Start upskilling your staff even before you start the migration so each element can be monitored and maintained properly as it goes live in the cloud.


Cloud migration strategies: the 5 Rs

Before you lift or shift a single data store or application, you need to know what cloud migration strategy you need to adopt for each. Here is a quick run through your options - the 5 Rs. If you want to learn more about each strategy in detail and which is best for each situation, check out our cloud migration strategy blog post.

1. Retire - turn off what you don’t need. If it is no longer serving a purpose in your organization, securely decommission it.
2. Replace or repurchase - upgrade or switch. If you’re using legacy software, now may be a good time to choose a cloud-native provider. 

3. Relocate or rehost - lift and shift to the cloud. This option is best if you already have the right data store, application, or data catalog and it can be hosted in the cloud without refactoring.

4. Refactor, rearchitect, or revise - adjust for the cloud. Not everything will naturally work in the cloud without some adaptation so, if you want to relocate it, you may need to add in the extra step of rearchitecting or refactoring. 

5. Reuse or retain - stick with what you have. Some software and data are best kept as is. Choose this strategy if you’re on the latest version and it works best to have the data or software kept on-premises.

Cloud migration process in 11 steps

The cloud migration process is extensive so you need to have a clear plan and strategy. Here are 11 cloud migration steps you should take to see success in your migration project.

1. Assess your existing data, apps, software, and workloads to build use cases

So you think you want to migrate to the cloud? You have an understanding of the key benefits of cloud migration and believe it’s time for your organization to make the move. But what are you going to migrate to the cloud? ‘Everything’ might not be the right answer.

First, assess every data store, application, and function against the business objectives they are helping you meet. Understand what is working optimally, what can be improved, and what is failing to deliver on objectives. Will migrating to the cloud help? And if so, how? You need clear, documented use cases.

Next, assess whether each item you want to migrate is cloud-ready or whether there will be additional work of refactoring, rearchitecting, and feature building that your teams will need to do before you can migrate it to the cloud. Or, you may have to buy new products to put workloads into the cloud. 

2. Catalog and map your data

Your data is the foundation of your cloud migration. Your data needs to be accessible, centralized, analyzed, discoverable, and governed - even while you migrate it. Don’t wait until after migration. As data is transferred, you need to make sure the data stays secure, and intact, and is not compromised in the cloud migration process. This is where a cloud-native data catalog is ideal. 

Your data catalog needs to be flexible to scale and maintain agile growth as a data-driven organization. Get the guide to modern data management with data catalogs.

3. Calculate your costs

You need to accurately assess the budget for every stage of the cloud migration process to make sure the investment is viable and you will see a healthy ROI. Plus, accurate calculations will help you get buy-in from all parties and retain support through the process. Here are some costs to consider.

Pre-migration costs: 

Migration costs: 

Post-migration costs: 

There are even cloud cost calculators you can use to predict the cost of your migration. 

4. Get buy-in across the organization

If you are convinced that moving to the cloud will fix your problems and enhance business performance, you need to get buy-in across the organization. Migrating to the cloud is a huge project so you need everyone on board to get the process started and over the line. 

You will need to convince the C-suite of the ROI based on increased performance and ability to hit business-level objectives. The teams you want to involve in the migration process will need to be bought in as you will need the precious resource of their time. Plus, many will need to upskill to help in the project. There may also be team changes after moving to the cloud because there will be a new way of operating. All these need to be considered and agreed upon. 

5. Choose a cloud provider

When assessing cloud vendors, ask your team:

6. Create a long-term roadmap and cloud exit strategy

Next, you need to create a long-term roadmap. This needs to cover what you will migrate, in what order, and by when. It should also cover implementing security and data governance. Then consider the lifecycle of each data store and application in the cloud and how you will upgrade, move, or decommission each workload. 

A further consideration is your cloud exit strategy. If something doesn’t work out in the cloud or you find you don’t have the right cloud platform for a particular workload, how will you exit? Cover your bases.

7. Assign roles and responsibilities to your teams

Once you have a plan in place, you need to give everyone clear roles and responsibilities in the project. Make sure each step in the process is owned by someone and everyone is working toward the same goals and deadlines. 

Your need for different roles will depend on the size of your organization, but you will definitely need a project manager, testers, and a security/legal team. Also consider having a systems admin, onboarding and support team, and an executive sponsor if you are a larger organization.

8. Create a PoC

Before you launch headlong into the migration, you’ll want to build a proof of concept (PoC). This helps you test your estimates and assumptions to make sure everything works as you expected with minimal risk. Test performance, security, and interoperability with on-premises workloads.

9. Migrate to the cloud

Now it’s time for the migration. The exact steps will vary depending on the strategies you have chosen and the cloud provider you are adopting. But this process should be carefully monitored. A cloud-native data catalog to ensure data consistency and track business continuity and visibility can be an enormous help here.

10. Test and maintain new deployments post-migration

Once everything is migrated, you need to test that it works and helps you achieve your objectives as expected. Plus, you will need to maintain and monitor your data, applications, and software in the cloud. Consider how you will resource that ongoingly.

11. Reorganize your teams

If you have migrated from on-premises to the cloud (rather than a cloud-to-cloud migration), you will find that your workload management changes significantly post-migration. The first notable change is not needing to spend team resources on managing uptime. But a cloud environment project is never really over and you will need to embed security processes, continue to optimize functions for the cloud, manage resource allocation, and carefully monitor everything in the cloud to check performance and prevent spiraling costs. 

You may need to significantly reorganize your teams to manage the tasks required to maintain your databases, applications, and other functions in the cloud.


Cloud migration tools and resources you might find helpful

Here are a few of the tools - mostly from the big three cloud providers, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google - that you may find helpful as you plan to migrate, assess costs, manage your data, and complete the cloud migration process. 

Cloud cost calculators and pricing tools

AWS Pricing Calculator

Microsoft Azure Pricing Calculator

Google Cloud Pricing Calculator

‘The Big 3’ cloud migration services and tools

AWS Application Migration Service

AWS Database Migration Service

Microsoft Azure - Azure Migrate - Cloud Migration Services

Microsoft Azure Database Migration Service

Google Cloud Rapid Assessment Migration Program (RAMP)

Google Cloud Application Migration

Google Cloud Database Migration Service

Data catalog

data.world cloud-native data catalog for enterprises

Helpful cloud optimization tools

AWS Cost Explorer

Amazon CloudWatch - Application and Infrastructure Monitoring

Microsoft Azure Cost Management

Google Cloud Billing


Start planning your cloud migration

Now you have discovered the benefits and challenges of cloud migration, the 5Rs of a migration strategy, key steps in the process of migrating, and important cloud migration tools. Your next step is to get planning. 

And don’t forget to sort your data governance before you migrate everything to the cloud so you can keep all your data accessible, accurate, discoverable, and consistent.

Find out more about data.world’s next-generation catalog for modern data management and why it is built for cloud migration.

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