Innovations are creating new business opportunities, which require organizations to adopt newer technologies to stay ahead in their business. State-of-the art infrastructure, technologies and expert advice can save time, capital expenses, and ongoing operational expenditures and can reduce the physical footprint of the data center. 

Data center migration is a major undertaking for any organization. It could involve one or more of the following: consolidating data centers, reducing the compute estate within a data center through virtualization, lift-and-shift of assets to a new facility, adopting new hardware and/or software platforms, etc. It is a complex activity with lots of moving parts that are difficult to control and track. The entire activity requires careful planning and execution to avoid any glitches. However, before planning the actual move, there are a few critical decisions that can have a significant impact on the effectiveness and success of the migration. 

Transition and/or Transformation? 

While transitioning a data center primarily involves moving the assets (and associated services) from one data center to another, transformation can mean a total metamorphosis of the data center with newer technologies, platforms, applications and processes. 

Transitioning a data center involves a structured, planned move from one data center to another, with planned system downtime communicated to users. If the exercise is pre-planned, the impact to the business can be managed within expectations. Business-critical applications have a very high dependency on the underlying infrastructure, and the way infrastructure is designed for availability, performance and load balancing plays an important role. Understanding the dependencies on infrastructure is a key consideration for transition. 

On the other hand, transforming a data center goes beyond merely lifting and shifting assets, beyond conventional data center technologies. If a customer’s existing data center is already obsolete, it would be extremely challenging to stay competitive, as most business applications require newer platforms. Also, maintaining older equipment is more expensive, and original equipment manufacturer vendors will not support older platforms. However, it is important to note that migrating to a newer platform may involve completely revamping the code and require entirely new infrastructure. Additionally, organizations may consider moving to the cloud as part of a transformation exercise. It is important to create a broad transformation framework relevant to the organization and determine the best fit by overlaying transformation and transition in a multiphased roadmap.

Phased or a Big Bang Approach?

A phased approach offers certain advantages, as a structured, step-by-step movement from one data center to another, while a big bang approach may help organizations with complex interdependencies across multiple critical applications and infrastructure. In cases where there are strong interdependencies between applications, databases and infrastructure, migration in phases is not an option. For example, a large Oracle database may have dependency on three storage devices and these three storage devices could be connected across multiple servers. In such a scenario, moving the entire infrastructure at once would be a prudent choice. 

However, if business critical applications are running on production systems and the organization cannot afford downtime, a phased approach can be a good option. The caveat is that a proven, robust disaster recovery strategy should be in place to support the data center movement, considering the criticality of business applications. Also, a phased approach requires more time to be completed compared to a big bang approach. It is important to know the flexibility of timelines well in advance.

Prioritizing the Movement of Critical Applications 

When to move critical applications is one of the toughest decisions to make, and it requires close consideration before deciding. Does it make sense to move the critical applications first in order to reap maximum benefits from migration quickly or should the organization wait and move them when all other applications are migrated to new data center to ensure all risks are minimized? A comprehensive portfolio-driven analysis is a necessity to determine the optimal approach.

The sequence of migrating applications has a serious impact on the business. For different situations, it is important to know the mapping and interdependency of applications on infrastructure. For instance, a business-critical database may have dependency on four different applications, with the associated data stored on three different storage devices and two or more servers. Unless this dependency is known, it is difficult to sequence the data center movement and its impact on migration timelines and the business, as a whole. 

Measuring Added Business Value

Finally, how does an organization measure and quantify the business value derived by moving a data center? Assuming the existing data center is well-established and running smoothly, under what conditions should migration be considered?  Will the benefits outweigh the inherent risks of such a move? A structured approach derived from successful (and also not-so -successful) migrations should be used to measure risk-optimized business and IT benefits.

The focus of data center migration depends on how the associated systems, applications and networks will be migrated. Whether an organization chooses to transition or completely transform the data center will determine the quantum and nature of changes. If the organization decides to move to the cloud – public, private or hybrid – it will completely change the way IT services are provisioned and distributed within the business.

Organizations need to be clear in their understanding of the business benefits of a given approach and need to map it to their business requirements. Once this is understood, they can identify the right set of parameters to evaluate the success of the initiative. 

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