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Taking the pain out of data centre migration

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Peru Consulting 10 May 2020 Time to read: 

In these challenging times, as organisations seek to become more efficient, some will revisit the issue that they may well have wrestled with previously: how to migrate business applications and data from unsuitable locations or out of date facilities to more modern centres. There are two basic common pathways: a consolidation of systems to a smaller number of internally managed data centres, or a more radical move to externally hosted infrastructure (the cloud) managed by third party suppliers.

In the past, companies have been rightly cautious about migrating their applications and data to third parties, until the market and its service offerings had matured. Now, secure and stable platforms are the norm, underpinned by reliable infrastructure and flexible application management services. Corporations are increasingly grasping the power and benefits of such ‘utility’ computing and many have already offloaded the provision of system management to external partners.

Five or ten years ago moving systems was more challenging but, these days, migration to any desired target environment can be conducted relatively straightforwardly, at lower risk than ever. The necessary technical tools, process knowhow and competition amongst providers are all well established. So, whether the ultimate destination for systems is to internal strategic data centres or to the cloud, the pain of migration is significantly less than it used to be.

Good for business

Suitably assured by these developments, company boards are increasingly attracted by the positive business cases which detail the significant cost, performance and service benefits that consolidating systems can realise, whether systems are migrated to large internal strategic data centres or to the cloud, or a rational combination of both.

And it is not just about cost: organisations are increasingly understanding that automation and agile technologies will enable them to develop and deploy solutions that help and serve their people and their customers, from the new environments.

Nevertheless, there are still legitimate questions and concerns that must be answered before a business takes the plunge and migrates its applications and data.

During the migration process the risks of excessive system downtime, loss of data, interface errors and so on have not completely vanished; they need to be managed so their probability of occurrence is minimised and their impact mitigated if they do happen.

With a reputable, experienced provider the risks posed by the new hosting environment and the services performed should be reduced and the user experience enhanced, compared to the current state.

Hurdling the Obstacles

Below are some of the reasons that may be given for not migrating, with the counter arguments that hopefully go some way to allaying those concerns….

1. ‘This application is too complicated; it has a host of environments and tens of interfaces; it won’t work properly after being moved’

This is a perfectly legitimate concern, often made worse by missing or incomplete system documentation and the age of some system component parts.

In reality, experts from firms that perform migration services have people, tools and processes that are targeted at gathering all the information about the innards of systems and replicating them exactly in the new environment. Given their experience in having conducted hundreds of corporate migrations there are very few surprises and little they have failed to migrate – no matter how complex.

2. ‘This application contains sensitive information. There is no way we can have this offsite, in the cloud’

We have seen plenty of terrible examples of organisations operating ‘data centres’ in complete unsuitable locations: in the basement of buildings flagged for demolition, below the waterline in riverside offices etc.

The question must be posed: “is the in-house infrastructure, at every layer, more secure than that offered by global hosting services providers whose business and reputation depend on the integrity of their systems?” To which an honest answer is usually enough to reduce the obstacle. Often the reticence to consider migrating such material is based on internal policies and practices which are often, on closer inspection, too restrictive or out of date. The demands of external regulators at country or EU level – GDPR for example – must of course be complied with, but Peru Consulting’s experience shows that this has rarely disallowed a migration.

3. ‘The Users don’t want to risk moving it. There’ll be technical issues, like latency, that concern them, and they won’t support it’

Like most of us, users are wary of change; they simply want the IT that supports them to work well and reliably. Naturally, any perceived threat to this will be a concern. However, the top migration partner firms listen to, and work together with, users and application owners every step of the way to address such issues. We have seen many examples where, from an initially sceptical position, users have embraced the change enthusiastically, especially when the performance of the application is actually enhanced by being situated in a more modern environment. Take latency for example, an often-quoted concern, it usually transpires that it is either improved or it has no impact on the way users use the application.

4. ‘This can’t be touched, it’s our ERP system and must be in-house’

There is no denying that the business case for migrating certain ERP systems presents some unique challenges and the benefits may not be so clear cut. However, if the programme is taken as an opportunity to consolidate and rationalise disparate country or departmental systems, for example, then the additional effort involved could be worth it. We have worked with a migration partner and client that were faced with this challenge and demonstrated, through patience and careful migration structuring, that migrating ERP systems was entirely achievable.

5. ‘Our IT function have the applications covered, there’ll be no service delivery or cost benefit from moving them somewhere else’

Often IT departments spend too much of their time and budget tending legacy and unstable systems, using workarounds and heroic efforts to keep everything up and running, and keeping the users happy. Undoubtedly reduction in costs of ‘keeping the lights on’ is a major driver of the migration business case, and this will almost inevitably impact headcount.

However, the opportunity that migrating applications presents is that both money and talent can be refocused to improve the business, sharpening its ability to compete and innovate for its people and customers. Such initiatives are inherently more interesting things to work on, thus offering a more attractive environment in which to recruit and retain IT professionals.

A compelling case

The rationale for migrating corporate applications and data to an external hosting environment is becoming ever more compelling, with many historical concerns having been allayed. The CV19 pandemic has focused minds on accessibility and bandwidth as well: in-house data centre ‘plumbing’ may be found wanting when many more workers are ‘hitting’ the systems from outside. On the other hand, the internet has clearly proven its resilience in that sense; and that means access to cloud data centres has been relatively unaffected.

Systems for which migration outside an organisation’s boundaries would not have been countenanced a few years ago are now being migrated routinely. Certainly, the right tools and know-how are needed, along with the vital involvement of users and owners. Given these enablers, there are few reasons why obstacles cannot be overcome, and greater overall business benefits achieved from the migration process.

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