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6 data center migration best practices

Data center migrations can be a complex process. Use best practices when migrating a data center to ensure maximum uptime, avoid data loss and stay on schedule.

A data center migration can be a time-consuming, costly and intense process, whether you're moving from one data center environment to another or transferring assets to the cloud. This means organizations must follow best practices to maintain uptime and navigate security risk and compliance complications.

Why a data center may migrate

There are various reasons to undergo a data center migration, and it often comes down to two: transformation or consolidation.

For transformation, consider an organization that has used on-premises infrastructure and is interested in upgrading to a cloud-based or hybrid infrastructure. In this case, organizations would need a migration from a hardware, software and application perspective to execute this upgrade. Organizations may also be changing locations of their data center, like switching offices or moving to a new facility.

On the other hand, organizations that have merged with another or have disparate data center systems may want to consolidate. This may involve moving some assets from multiple data centers into one, for example. In this case, organizations would identify and remove redundancies to reduce and consolidate sprawl into a more lean and manageable data center environment.

Data center migration may require an upfront investment, but organizations can realize savings over the long run, as well as improved security and efficiency thanks to an updated, fully optimized system. Organizations that are migrating from one site to a different one also have the chance to optimize systems.

Data center migration best practices

Two of the biggest hurdles to migrating a data center are scale and complexity when figuring out how the new systems work together. Have a plan ready to have a successful data center migration, and use a migration to assess the needs of the data center.

These best practices are designed to help decrease complexity, stay on task, minimize downtime and maximize connectivity.

1. Take a detailed inventory of assets

To develop a data center migration strategy, understand your current environment, as well as the one you're moving to. To get such a comprehensive view, take a detailed inventory of your assets, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Data infrastructure and architecture.
  • All stored data, including unstructured, structured, critical, sensitive and raw data.
  • All hardware and software.
  • All applications.
  • All workloads and users.
  • Network maps.
  • Interdependencies and configurations.
  • Security environment and perimeter, including endpoints and peripheral data devices.

2. Create a migration plan

After identifying assets, construct a clear data center migration strategy, plan and phased timeline. Maintain a dedicated project plan to keep the complexity of the process under control. This gives the team managing the migration a better idea of when downtime is required and when to notify users ahead of time. It is also key to staying compliant and on budget.

In the project plan, define the following:

  • The objective of the migration, its goals and intentions, and what migrates, such as software, hardware or application migrations.
  • A strategy that factors in your current data environment and the one you're moving to.
  • The resources you need along the way, including people, technology and capital.

The complete timeline should include every action written out and defined, with clear goal posts and benchmarks noted throughout the sequence.

3. Plan the migration process for hardware, software, applications and cost

After getting complete transparency into your inventory, note and prioritize the most critical and business-reliant assets. For example, examine what applications and workloads absolutely need to be up and running, what needs end of life or a transition, and how to minimize downtime.

Next, you need a similarly comprehensive understanding of your new infrastructure or data environment. Figure out what new equipment the organization needs for a better and more optimal setup; what support it requires, like power and cooling; and what the full stack looks like in action, from hardware to software and applications.

Then, you can map out the migration path for each asset. Plan what needs to be transferred first to support your most critical services. Can you move over everything in chunks, or do you have to stand up some applications one by one? This mapping process can skew into complexity, so carefully define each asset's route and when it needs to transition.

4. Form teams to delegate responsibilities and provision resources

Next, decide who's in charge of moving what. A large-scale data center migration is usually a companywide effort. As such, you need to engage stakeholders from across your organization, not just the technical team.

Hold meetings to understand what personnel and skill sets you have at your disposal. Then, delegate migration responsibilities and form teams to manage them. Each team should have an owner or leader who's responsible for overseeing the task and reporting on progress.

Once you have an agreed-upon plan or data center migration checklist, make sure all stakeholders have a chance to review it. The plan should make it clear what they need to do, how to do it and when it needs to be done. Afterward, address any feedback, incorporate it into a finalized plan and distribute it as the master document.

5. Develop a data backup and recovery plan

Data loss is one of the biggest risks of a data center migration. Anything can happen during the process, from unexpected network issues or a communication breakage in the data transfer line to a power outage caused by inclement weather. Expect the unexpected, and have a data backup and recovery plan in place to minimize the loss of critical data.

To develop a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan, follow strategic best practices and the 3-2-1 backup rule, which includes the following:

  • Create three copies of your most critical data: the original data and at least two backups.
  • Use two different storage types, such as on-premises hardware and a cloud backup environment.
  • Ship one copy of data to an off-site storage facility.
  • Automate disaster recovery runbooks as much as possible.
  • Factor in your endpoints and applications to ensure they are backed up correctly and to avoid downtime for users.

6. Prepare KPIs to measure during post-migration testing

Before you begin the migration, prepare KPIs for both benchmarks and success criteria. This enables you to understand how much progress you've made along the way by checking against major milestones. After the project is complete, you can check the success criteria and address any unmet objectives.

Have KPIs in place to ensure you're staying on track for your timeline. For post-migration testing, set up real-time analytics to measure against performance metrics. Upon completion, you should check that everything on your detailed inventory list was moved over and dependencies are intact. Make sure everything is up and running, and touch base with stakeholders to verify their needs are met in the new data center.

Migrating a data center takes time and effort

While you may feel pressure from stakeholders to complete the process quickly, it's not something you can rush.

Take your time to think through each step of the migration process, and make sure you have the resources in place to follow through with your plan. By following these best practices, you can ensure a safe data center migration with a clear timeline, mitigate risk in the process and achieve a seamless transition.

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