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April 09, 2019

A Lift and Shift Approach to Cloud Migration

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The question for modern organizations is no longer “Do we move to cloud?”; instead it’s “When and how do we move to cloud?” Some IT departments get top down imperatives to move everything to cloud, while others seize the opportunities offered by impending license renewals or the possible loss of vendor support. Regardless of the reason, critical decisions must be made to ensure a successful transition. As an example, leaders need to determine which approach is the best fit for  their organization. In this first part of a ourcloud migration series we will cover the “Lift and Shift” method.


Lift and Shift to the Cloud

With Lift and Shift, current infrastructure is replicated in the cloud with minimal change in features. This model is a strategic choice to achieve greater flexibility and a broader range of services and features. It is often chosen when an expensive software license needs renewal, costly hardware demands replacement or security issues associated with the end of life arise. Learn more about:


Cloud Migration Roadmap

Every successful cloud migration begins with the same two steps. Invest the proper diligence in these decisions and you will maximize the value of your transition.

Determine Who’s Going and What to Pack

One of the first steps in any trip is to identify who’s going and determine what they need to pack; successful migrations are similar. What systems are migrating to the cloud? What aspects need to move? How soon do they need to get there? What baggage should they bring with them? Work with the business stakeholders of those systems to establish priorities for moving them to the cloud. Think about what they need to bring with them, especially with regard to data. At this early stage it is important to define the current state for business processes and consider your plan for migrating data or ensuring seamless interoperability between cloud data and legacy on-premise storage.


Pick the Appropriate Vehicle and Route

Once you have a destination in mind, you can pick a vehicle and plan your route. Stakeholder priorities, objectives and concerns can help you determine which cloud vendor to use and whether a public or private cloud (or both) is most appropriate. The major cloud providers all have similar feature-sets, so picking a target environment is usually a combination of price (each vendor provides a tool to gauge pricing), matching technology stacks with IT expertise and leveraging existing vendor relationships.

The more difficult—and more important—choice is choosing a method for the transition. You have three roads to choose from on your journey; this is the first option.


Steps to Migrate

  1. Determine the best architecture that fits the needs of the existing systems. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings are the primary choices; IaaS will provide a basic machine and storage and PaaS adds an operating system. In rare cases, Software as a Service (SaaS) may make sense for software that has no custom configuration (databases, for example, often fall into this category).
  2. If necessary, work with vendors to begin transferring licenses of existing software to work in the cloud.
  3. A good practice is to use a container system, like Docker, to replicate existing software configurations and environments. You can use this approach to test configurations in the cloud before moving to production.
  4. Migrating data is fairly straightforward with Lift and Shift. You can take database backups from the existing system and migrate them to cloud storage along with other necessary supporting files. When the cloud database is ready, you can restore the backups into it. An alternative is to use a data integration tool; there should be minimal risk since the schema should match in both places.
  5. Retire the old systems once approved by stakeholders.
  6. Arrive and unpack. You’re officially in the cloud, but you still have the same system. Now you need to decide if you want to refactor to a cheaper or more flexible structure.


When to Use This Method

Lift and Shift works best under the following circumstances:

  • The organization is prepared to make a long-term investment
  • The organization is committed to its cloud migration
  • The current systems are well-documented and understood
  • There is an imperative to get to the cloud quickly and extra short-term cost is acceptable; on-premise architecture is not always cheaper once it’s operating in the cloud
  • The current systems are relatively stable
  • The software involved is deployable to the cloud
  • Avoid arbitrary deadlines that don’t account for technical demands
  • Limit the scope to changes in infrastructure design – don’t make functionality changes
  • Ensure proper due diligence by having appropriate planning, requirements and automated testing
  • Plan for the fact that the current system will get little to no attention during the cutover as the infrastructure team will be occupied with the migration


Pitfalls to Watch Out For:

  • Scope creep beyond infrastructure design changes
  • Insufficient diligence with planning, requirements, and automated testing
  • Arbitrary deadlines that don’t account for technical demands
  • Planning system changes, such as introducing new features, during the migration and cutover.
  • Lack of preparation for the high levels of security and monitoring required in the cloud



Moving to the cloud is inevitable for most organizations and there are many strategies for the transition. Understanding your current system architecture, reviewing the available cloud services and assessing the pros and cons of each strategy can save you time and money. Whether you choose to replicate your systems directly in the cloud, rewrite an entirely new cloud-native system or revise the architecture over time, make sure to do the research before choosing a strategy.

Check out other installments in the “Three Approaches to Cloud Migration” blog series:


Are you ready to migrate to the Cloud? Download our Cloud Migration Checklist and assess how prepared you are!

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