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Guide to lift-and-shift data center migration

The lift-and-shift approach moves an app and its data from one environment to another. Understanding the pros and cons can help a data center admin decide on proper strategies.

Lift and shift migration involves moving an application and its associated data, OS and workload to a new environment -- usually from on premises to the cloud. It provides a way to move apps without redesigning them to suit the new infrastructure or fundamentally changing the workload.

Data center admins use lift and shift to migrate apps and workloads from on-premises to a data center or from the data center to the cloud. Companies use lift and shift to protect their investments in applications, business workflows and data found in their hardware.

Pros of lift-and-shift migration

When compared to other options, lift-and-shift migrations offer several compelling benefits.

Lift and shift, also known as rehosting, is a cost-effective and minimally disruptive migration strategy. The app is accessible during migration, which ensures no service interruption. Application experience should remain the same for users.

Migrating an app to a new environment improves its performance since the app will ideally run on updated, higher-performance hardware and enhanced security options.

Companies can scale their application use without having to purchase, install and manage additional hardware. This saves on overprovisioning efforts during peak traffic.

Cons of lift-and-shift migration

There are situations where a lift-and-shift migration might not be the right strategy for a data center or company.

Depending on the industry, the new environment might need specific certifications or security features, such as HIPAA or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard compliance.

The lift-and-shift approach moves apps to a different environment without any change. Legacy applications might suffer from latency or performance issues because they were never meant to run on more updated infrastructure.

Uses of lift-and-shift

Lift and shift can help when on-premises or non-cloud infrastructure costs increase, but the company is not ready to rearchitect apps or move to new ones. It might be more cost-effective to move the apps to a new environment -- like the cloud -- until the company is ready to rebuild.

Admins cannot alter or recode third-party vendor apps, such as FedEx, Google Drive and PayPal. The only alternative is to use lift and shift to move them as is to the new environment.

Companies that run mission-critical applications as on-premises VMs should lift and shift to cloud VMs that serve similar purposes. Moving backup and recovery resources through this approach enables companies to enjoy the new environment's scalability.

Challenges of a lift-and-shift migration

Like all migration strategies, even a lift and shift that's meticulously planned and seems to include all eventualities can run into challenges. Consider the following possible concerns with lift-and-shift migrations:

  • Worries about workflow disruptions, real or not.
  • Familiarity issues when people resist learning new skills that are needed in new environments.
  • Compatibility issues between legacy applications and the new environment.
  • Challenge to balance the need to migrate quickly and in a well-planned, high-quality manner.
  • Concerns about compliance requirements, both during and after the migration.

Troubleshooting these challenges requires planning, an agile migration team and the patience to deal with any complications that might arise.

For example, a solid communication plan with affected users will allay any workflow disruption worries. Make retraining options available to help people move past their familiarity issues, which would reduce the time it takes them to adapt to the new option. Research the new application to identify whether it's compatible with legacy applications or workflows and if the company needs additional tools or materials.

Collaboration with relevant teams prior to migration will also ensure that the new option meets all compliance requirements and reduce any reputational or legal risk.

How to implement a lift-and-shift migration

To make the most of a lift-and-shift migration, data center facility owners and operators should take the following steps to minimize risks and difficulties:

  1. Assess the app and prepare for the move. Consider how much pre-work needs to occur before the move, like updates and patches, and schedule that work. Only choose apps that will be effective after the move and ones that can't migrate another way.
  2. Assess the application life span. Consider how long the application will continue to be in use. Know an application's longevity before migrating to it.
  3. Identify any data or workload bottlenecks. Know how data travels before the move. The new environment might result in a new path for data and workloads, leading to API access restrictions.
  4. Verify compliance requirements. Ensure the migration plan and target infrastructure meet all compliance requirements during and after the move. Know the storage rules for data and workloads as some regulations require both to be done in specific geographies. Understand the security requirements of your application and data, and map those to the destination environment. Admins might have to consider a private cloud for some data, while a public one will work for the rest. All this must occur prior to the migration to avoid any issues and extra work.
  5. Create a migration priority list. Mission-critical apps should be migrated first to ensure the migration does not negatively impact workloads and staff.
  6. Reduce feature and scope creep. Define a strategy to slowly integrate features the new environment might have and stick to it throughout the migration. Delays and interruptions can occur if admins integrate new features all at once.

When admins should use a lift-and-shift strategy

A lift-and-shift migration is usually the fastest and most cost-effective migration strategy for data center admins. Those who want to move workloads to a cloud provider like AWS, IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure can take advantage of the migration services they offer to further improve cost-effectiveness and reduce migration risks.

The migration services typically offer automated configuration and environment testing, data transfer services and migration consulting services to streamline the process. Many individual applications, such as Atlassian and Red Hat, offer lift-and-shift migration help.

A lift-and-shift migration might also be a good strategy for apps with configurations or scripts that aren't documented or are hard to reverse-engineer. This attracts companies that do not have the resources to handle additional IT work. Choose a new application that matches the existing workload and feature set as closely as possible before the switch.

A move to the cloud also improves functionality and performance over legacy application versions or other low-performing workloads. Cloud-based apps are optimized to use cloud provider services and are constantly enhanced to maintain high performance rates and evolving functionality.

When not to use a lift-and-shift strategy

The lift-and-shift approach isn't always the best for a data center. This applies to situations where data might need reengineering or refactoring before use in the new environment.

Facilities that handle data and apps for healthcare or financial services might have additional security and compliance requirements to meet. A new environment or location might not meet the rigorous requirements laid out in the company's guidelines. Understand what's required before planning a move.

Cloud-based apps and workloads are optimized to use services from cloud providers, so moving them from the cloud to on-premises might not be the best option.

Legacy apps replaced by newer, more modern versions might also not be worth moving. The new versions might have additional features that are incompatible with the legacy data or workflow. In that case, consider a different migration approach, like refactoring or consolidation.

Julia Borgini is a freelance technical copywriter and content marketing strategist who helps B2B technology companies publish valuable content.

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