Data Center Migration Plan: A Full Guide


Almost everyone would have come across the phrase “a failure to plan is a plan for failure”. With data center migrations, perhaps there isn’t a truer statement. A disturbing 83% of data migration projects experience either complete failure or exceed cost and time budgets. 

The failure rate is primarily caused by poor assumptions or estimations of requirements, a shallow consideration for risks, and an overall failure to dictate a methodology or structure for governing the migration process. These are all rooted in a lack of good planning.

Regardless of failure rates, however, migrations are not slowing down any time soon. The cloud migration services market is still expected to grow by an average CAGR of 25.9% between 2023 and 2030. 

To help you ensure that your organization’s migration project doesn’t meet the fate of the majority 80%, we have created this guide on data center migration planning. Let’s get right in. 

What is a data center migration project plan?

The data center migration project plan is a formal, documented guide that dictates how the different migration phases will play out. It consists of a data center migration checklist that outlines the following:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Resource requirements
  • Tasks/responsibilities that have to be fulfilled during the migration process. 

The transfer to a new (target) environment may either be between physical locations, between physical and cloud locations, or between cloud locations. 

The migration plan is specific to the project’s uniqueness. Hence, it’s important to pay attention to granular details to identify the appropriate scope, schedule, timeline, and budget for the  operation.    

Data center migration plan essentials

The data center migration project plan is made up of different parts. Here are the 8 steps you should take when creating this plan:

1. Define the data center migration goals and objectives

Whether for transformation or consolidation, different organizations will always have different reasons why they embark on data center migration projects.

Generally, these reasons revolve around:

  • Improving IT performance
  • Achieving higher infrastructural scalability
  • Introducing tighter security
  • To enjoy greater cost efficiency.

The primary determinants of the goals of a migration project, however, are the organization’s business objectives. 

Data center migration projects need to align with business objectives to ensure there is no conflict of interest.

More specifically, the plan should ensure that the project satisfies business priorities. For instance, although achieving increased IT performance is a great reason for migration, the reduction of IT cost may be a more pressing issue for business continuity

Hence, the goal of cost reduction guides the planning team in selecting cost-efficient migration tools and avoiding a move to a more costly target environment. This is the same if data security is more important than IT performance or scalability.

2. Determine the migration scope

Once the goals of the data center migration process have been clearly spelled out, the migration planning team moves to define the scope of the project. 

The data center migration scope indicates what, where, how, and when data will be moved. More specifically, it outlines:

  • What — Relating to the specific group of data, type of data, or format of data that is to be moved to the target environment. It also defines what applications, security systems, networking assets, servers, or storage infrastructure, among others, need to be transferred to the new data center. A thorough, preliminary identification of these ensures you don't leave any important assets behind. 
  • Where — Concerned with determining requirements for the target environment. Should the target environment be physical, cloud-based, or hybrid? How much component slots or data storage space is needed in the new data center? How much computing power is needed, and how flexible should scaling capabilities be? Answering these questions and many more helps define exactly what to look for in a target data center environment.
  • How — The strategy for data center migration — the data center migration methodology that best satisfies the specific migration goals. There are six major data center migration strategies to adopt here;
    1. Lift and Shift (Rehosting)
    2. Replatforming
    3. Repurchasing
    4. Refactoring
    5. Retiring
    6. Retaining

    If cost efficiency is the motive behind data center migration, repurchasing, which involves changing supporting IT products and vendors, may be the best strategy to take. If your organization also needs to replace IT composition but fears that making huge changes may prove detrimental, Replatforming is a great strategy to incorporate. The data center migration methodology adopted should also take note of dependencies between migrated assets.

  • When — The timeline for data center migration through which you specify start and end dates. The details of when a data center migration takes place should consider all possibilities for delay, including vendor downtime and internal maintenance requirements.

Of course, the general goals of the data center migration project determine the scope requirements for what, where, how, and when to migrate IT assets.

3. Create an inventory of assets

The data center migration inventory is a list or documented record of all the software and hardware components to be transferred to the target environment. Its main focus is to bring coordination and aid in more accurately pinpointing assets in the source environment.

Please focus on the following when creating an inventory:

  • The general name of each hardware and software asset
  • The manufacturer of each asset
  • The model of each asset, including information about storage size, weight (hardware), and dimensions (hardware)
  • Detailed specifications of asset computing capabilities and requirements
  • The location of physical hardware assets and where management of software assets lie (internal or managed services)
  • Additional identification information for hardware assets such as cabinet locations and u-positions. 

Just like when choosing a data center migration strategy, considering dependencies between hardware and software is also important here. 

Look into relationships between applications, servers, networks, and third-party SaaS integrations. This way, you are able to cover all key assets within the inventory. 

What’s more, adopting automated software tools for asset and dependency discovery helps to achieve more efficient, hitch-free migration planning and execution. 

If you are an MSSP, this guide on MSSP asset intelligence offers more insight. Please check it out.

Also read: MSP vs. MSSP: What is the Difference?

4. Assess the destination environment

After determining the project scope and creating an inventory, it is time to pick a target environment and assess it for reliability and risks.

This is where you compare project goals and scope requirements with the new data center. Essentially, you want to assess its ability to satisfy performance, cost-efficiency, scalability, security, and compliance needs.

The migration planning team carries out assessments on the target data center. They do this to identify the following:

  • IT capacity
  • Hardware and software integration capabilities
  • Existent transformative technology
  • Monitoring and reporting capabilities
  • Historical reputation. 

Assessments also reveal possible physical and virtual vulnerabilities/risks/weaknesses, maintenance strategies, and opportunities for optimization.

Gathering these pieces of information from multiple shortlisted data centers eases comparison.

5. Determine budget and resource requirements 

Data center migration resources refer to the people, equipment, and materials needed to support the migration process. They include the time resources needed to complete each migration phase, the financial resources to acquire logistic services, software tools and labor, and the human resources needed to carry out the different migration tasks.

Now, when it comes to resource management in the planning stage, you don’t just estimate resource needs. You also need to procure resources and allocate resources based on what each task demands. It’s also recommended to go the extra step to identify how to track resources for when the migration operation kicks off. 

Please note that financial resources are typically the most important here. Poor budgeting leads to unexpected overruns, a common cause of data migration failure.

To avoid this, the planning team needs to consider indirect migration costs, such as:

  • Cost of retraining employees
  • Cost of monitoring migration
  • Cost of interdepartmental collaboration
  • Cost of post-migration assessment and maintenance. 

A good way to cover unexpected overruns is to implement a contingency budget, typically set at 5-10% of the initial budget estimate.

6. Create considerations for disaster recovery

With migration failure being rampant, it is important to create plans against data loss. Disasters can spring up from anywhere — 67% of data losses are attributed to hardware crashes, 14% are caused by human error, and 10% are blamed on software failure according to Kroll OnTrack research. All these are factors present in the data center migration process. 

The primary hedge against virtual data loss is backing up all assets to be transferred. This backup process involves creating exact copies of data on separate storage platforms and also keeping snapshots of configurations to preserve the IT system’s operational integrity.

The data center migration planning team should create a policy around data backup and recovery to be applied during and after migration.

For physical data center transfers, you can hedge against disaster by signing warranty and indemnity agreements with third-party services. Installing tracking devices on physical servers is a great way to prepare against theft and aid asset recovery.

Data loss is a serious risk for any organization today. We have discussed this at length through different guides. This one on best practices for data loss prevention is a good place to start.

Also read: What is Disaster Recovery Plan?

7. Identify and assess migration tools

Once the migration scope, target environment, resource allocation, and disaster recovery strategies have been determined, it’s time to select the tools to facilitate the whole process.

These tools will be needed for core tasks like data backup, data/infrastructure transfer, and real-time migration monitoring. They also prove useful for granular tasks like asset discovery, migration assessment, and communication management, among others.

Now, when choosing tools, there are some key factors to consider. Depending on migration goals and resource constraints, the data center planning team should prioritize reliability (high uptime), security assurance, regulatory compliance, intuitive UI/UX designs, and value-driven/scalable pricing.

Also, ensure the selected tools are compatible with migrated assets, the source environment, and the target environment before spending money on them.   

8. Identify roles and responsibilities 

This is the part where you identify the «Who» of the migration process — the personnel responsible for every task in the data center migration operation.

Here, you get to identify the following roles:

  • Migration project manager
  • Technical lead
  • Network engineer
  • Dedicated database administrators
  • Dedicated systems administrators
  • Security compliance officers
  • Quality assurance officers/team members.

The organization clearly states, separates, and allocates responsibilities, and establishes communication channels between all personnel to foster collaboration.

Alongside internal employees, the planning team should make consideration for third-party vendors. Could it be better to go for a managed data center migration service? This is a specialized third party that partially or completely takes over migration, allowing you to save time and avoid errors.

Once roles are determined, points for indemnities are clearly stated to identify who is responsible for what.

Common mistakes during data center migration planning

From data loss to unprecedented expansion costs, redundant datasets, and wastage, the little mistakes organizations make during migration planning can result in punitive consequences.

Here are some commonly disregarded factors that could cost your enterprise. 

1. Ignoring data growth

Per Gartner, IT businesses alone experience 40% growth in data per year. The mistake a lot of organizations make in migration planning is ignoring these expectations for data growth when choosing a target environment.

Without properly assessing unique data growth trends, it’s easy to face unexpected expansion costs or even the need for another migration operation. These contribute to post-migration budget overruns.

2. Guessing/overestimating time and cost requirements

Using historical information to predict resource requirements is a great idea. However, when the team doesn’t look at each migration project as a unique endeavor, it risks scope creep, budget overruns, and even resource overestimates.

 Overestimations may bring cost underruns, but they can also lead to unnecessary spending, resource wastage, and opportunity costs.

3. Ignoring data cleaning

Data cleaning/cleansing is all about deduplicating data, eliminating corrupt data, and correcting inaccurate records that exist within the source environment.

Organizations that ignore this integral process of the planning/preparation stage face data redundancy (which may lead to wasted storage), complicated data management processes, and compliance risks.

4. Choosing a bad time for data center migration

Anyone would agree that a data center migration on a Monday morning in February would prove detrimental to business operations and customer satisfaction.

The mistake organizations make here, however, is not scheduling migration for a Monday morning. Rather, it is ignoring the possibility of delays when scheduling for a seemingly safer time — i.e., the weekend.

Hence, when setting a time for migration, you should plan for time-related contingencies and also pick a period that guarantees low business impact. This period can be a holiday week in December, for example.

Don’t forget the stakeholders!

A successful data center migration plan takes substance from its ability to meet the right business goals. However, due to the uniqueness and dynamism of business environments, it may be hard for the migration planning team to determine what holds more priority. This is where stakeholder expectations come into play.

Stakeholders are individuals with interests in organizational success. These individuals range from investors and high-level executives to employees, vendors, and customers. Identifying what stakeholders want and deem important for the business helps the team determine the best goals to set for the migration project.  

Aligning migration goals with stakeholder expectations helps achieve stakeholder buy-in. With this, the migration plan receives full support from all parties and the project is more likely to be a success.

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