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April 29, 2021

How to save your data center migration from unplanned delays

Whether it’s consolidating existing services, moving to another physical data center, or transitioning to a private or public cloud, data migrations are happening everywhere. Recent industry data has shown that spending on cloud infrastructure services alone increased by 34% in the first quarter, largely driven by the move to remote working sparked by COVID-19.

Yet despite the uptick, few people in IT today have hands-on experience going through an entire migration project. Those who migrated their companies from mainframes to client/server computers many moons ago have mostly retired or moved on, taking their knowledge and experience with them.

With most technology teams tackling a migration project for the first time, it’s no surprise that many of these change initiatives face issues. In fact, according to Gartner 70% of data center migrations will suffer significant time delays or unplanned downtime, largely due to improper planning. A report from Velostrata and Dimensional Research had similar findings. Their survey found that 73% of cloud migration projects took a year or longer to complete and 55% reported going over budget. 

While helping numerous companies plan and execute data migrations, we’ve identified three common issues that often cause delays.

  1. Not enough detail captured during preplanning

A data center migration is a hugely complex process that requires a significant level of planning and a detailed plan, which encompasses all considerations. Concentrating solely on servers without identifying and understanding data rules and dependencies can inadvertently break networks and applications. It is crucial to consider the entire infrastructure. Failing to do so in sufficient detail is where many data migration problems arise.

Engaging all the applicable stakeholders—both technology and business—ensures all requirements are gathered, dependencies are captured, systems are inventoried, and potential conflicts are identified. For example, you don’t want your data migration scheduled for the same week that Marketing plans to push a major website update - you need the full focus of all resources (both people and technology) required.  

The input will inevitably impact your project plan, adding hundreds of new actions for both humans and machines to execute. Accurately capturing these actions, as well as seeing and understanding how various projects overlap and interact and how resources are utilized, is critical to controlling project risk. 

Unfortunately, many teams rely on spreadsheets or even paper documents to capture the details of this plan. While the approach works—and there are numerous checklists and templates that can be found online to get you started—one-dimensional tools make it very difficult for the human brain to visualize, and understand precisely when thousands of activities should start and when resources will be needed.

Tools like Cutover’s Work Orchestration and Observability Platform provide a better option for planning a data migration or other transformation initiative. The platform can capture and organize both human and machine activities into well-orchestrated runbooks and show how team members are being utilized. While runbooks are as simple as building a to-do list, they allow more complex scenarios to be captured and for machine tasks to be automated. When organization-wide technology projects are planned and scheduled in the platform, the migration team can easily see how resources are utilized across projects and identify issues.

With Cutover, a migration walk-through with the team is also far more engaging than having everyone follow along with a spreadsheet. Participants can visually see how their piece of work exists within the context of others and where there are critical dependencies, making it easier to spot potential issues ahead of ‘go-live’. 

2. Failure to Rehearse a Migration Beforehand

After you’ve completed your walk-through and made any adjustments, a rehearsal is needed. This critical step allows you to test your process, analyze your dry run results, and optimize your hour-by-hour run plan. Your final outcome should be as close to a 100% successful migration as possible. As the migration routines are executed, avoid manual re-keying, and fixing data post-cutover. Doing so will only delay the business achieving tangible value from the new system.

Run plans developed, refined, and tested during the rehearsals give the team confidence they are ready for the actual cutover day. With Cutover, these run plans can be rehearsed to identify potential issues or obstacles, such as resourcing, or technical constraints, as well as capture team performance during the event. Every step can be analyzed for possible optimization, and by performing more comprehensive, visual rehearsals, you can also reduce the number of rehearsals required, to further improve efficiency.  

3. Lack of Automated Communications 

During a migration (or any IT initiative), teams and stakeholders need real-time communications showing when things have kicked off and which activities are next. Unfortunately, when team members use email, messaging, and conference calls to relay information the result is a barrage of updates, reminders, requests, and questions that too often get buried, causing project delays and putting the initiative at risk. 

Automation should be used to optimize communications, such as notifying managers when approvals are needed and alerting team members when tasks have been completed or are overdue. For example, with  Cutover, when a task is completed, email confirmations and SMS messages are automatically sent, or if a conference call is needed, you can set it up within the platform. So with one step, a bridge line is created within Cutover and everyone in the platform is automatically invited to the call. 

Even when users prefer different communication tools, such as Slack, Teams, or email, Cutover connects these tools so they work in harmony rather than operating as disparate channels. The result is live collaboration and full visibility by teams and stakeholders into what has happened and what activities are next. 

The reality is there is no pain-free solution to data migration, but with proper planning, rehearsing the process, and improving communication among team members you can eliminate several issues that cause unexpected downtime. You can further improve your chances of migration success by using Cutover’s Work Orchestration and Observability Platform to plan, rehearse, orchestrate, and visualize the entire migration process in one place.

Learn how a large American multinational bank used Cutover to migrate over 2,000 applications to new data centers. Read now

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