6 tips to help you avoid disastrous data migrations

Posted on by Andrej Walilko | Updated:
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If your business involves online activity that stores data in the cloud, chances are you have experience with data migration. Either that or you will need to migrate data in the future from one platform to another. 

Despite how common data migration is for internet-based businesses, it is still a process that can go wrong in many ways. And when it goes wrong, the results can be painful for everyone involved. 

To help you avoid these adverse outcomes, here is everything you need to know about data migration and some tips to ensure you can consistently move your data without problems.

What is data migration?

Data migration is the planned transfer of data from a source location to a destination. While this definition makes it seem like a relatively straightforward process, there is a lot of complexity involved in moving data in a way that maintains its integrity while minimizing the impact on your business activities.

For instance, migration can happen between different physical locations, storage media, applications, or even data types. Each use case involves unique risks and requires equally unique migration plans.

Additionally, the reasons for migrating your data are just as varied. Migration can happen because you are switching hosting companies, upgrading from legacy systems, relocating to a new data center, or merging existing infrastructure.

Types of data migration

There are six major data migration categories based on how the migration takes place:

  • Storage migration.
  • Application migration.
  • Database migration.
  • Cloud migration.
  • Business process migration.
  • Data center migration.

Storage migration

Storage migration is the most basic form of data migration. It involves transferring data from one physical storage device to another one. 

Upgrading storage drives is a common use case for storage data migration.

Businesses typically use data storage migration when upgrading hardware, like switching from hard disk drives to solid-state drives, for improved speed and reliability. So, the data’s format and state remain the same after migration, and for most applications using the data, there shouldn’t be any need for re-configuration.

Application migration

Application migration refers to moving an application from one platform to another or transferring data between business applications. 

The latter typically occurs when an organization switches vendors for their software applications, like moving to a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or changing email service providers.

As part of the change, the organization’s existing data needs to move to the new systems in a way that maintains the integrity and accuracy of the data. That can be tricky because of the difference in data models and formats between the two systems and may require some middleware that can translate the data between applications. 

Database migration

Applications use databases to store information in an organized way that’s easily accessible digitally from a database management system (DBMS). The process of moving these databases from one DBMS to another is what database migration is all about. 

Companies migrate their databases to either switch to a new database vendor, upgrade an existing data management platform, or move data to a remote DBMS.

Cloud migration

With the convenience and benefits of cloud computing, cloud migrations are becoming an attractive option for more organizations. It involves moving data, workloads, and/or applications from your on-premises infrastructure into the cloud.

Cloud data migration can also mean moving data from one cloud service provider to another. The reasoning for cloud migration is to take advantage of the potential for reduced cost and increased flexibility that comes with cloud-based infrastructure.

Business process migration

Business process migration commonly occurs during corporate mergers and acquisitions, where one or more organizations combine their operations under one entity. That will mean migrating business data, applications, and other business processes to a new environment.

Data center migration

Data center migration occurs when you relocate your entire data center infrastructure from one physical location to another or migrate your business data between data centers. It's also a common part of the disaster recovery process.

This may require dismantling and moving the physical hardware that makes up your computing environment to a new location. Alternatively, you move all your business applications and data from the servers in one data center to another. 

Data migration strategies

Organizations with a data migration project will employ one of these two strategies, regardless of the data type they are moving: 

  • Big Bang migration.
  • Trickle migration.

Big Bang migration

The Big Bang strategy requires moving all your data from the source system to the target in one go within a set time frame. 

The advantage here is that you can complete the entire migration process within a shorter time frame. On the other hand, it may require some downtime while you’re migrating the data. There is also a higher risk of failures leading to prolonged outages.

Of the two strategies, Big Bang migration is the most cost-effective, and it works best in scenarios where you have a relatively small amount of data or a lower level of complexity in migrating it from one place to another.

Trickle migration

In contrast, trickle migration is a phased approach that transfers data between the old and new systems, with both systems operating in parallel.

This strategy is more complex by design to reduce the risk of outages and ensure business continuity. However, it takes longer to complete the migration, and running multiple systems simultaneously can be expensive.

Trickle migration best suits larger organizations with complex data systems and strict data integrity requirements.

Common challenges associated with data migration

With all the different forms of migration and the complexity involved, several things can go wrong and cause a data migration process to fail. 

Here are some common challenges you may encounter while transferring your data from one place to another.

Lack of adequate planning

Starting a data migration project without a plan is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes, even with a plan, things can still go wrong if it doesn’t cover all aspects of the process.

Planning your migration strategy requires input from all stakeholders.

For instance, if you create a migration plan for a cloud migration process that details all the steps to get your data from point A to B but don’t have any information about dealing with risks, your entire process can be halted by something as simple as a connectivity downtime or power outage. 

Simple problems like these can cause delays because there are no clearly defined procedures for handling them. While it isn’t possible to plan for every eventuality, a great migration plan will consider common migration risks and have steps for reducing their likelihood or mitigating their occurrence.

Without a plan, you have almost no way to know if things are progressing smoothly and no directions for what to do when they aren’t. 

Incompatible data formats

Another factor that can impact the migration process is the difference in formats between your data source and destination. 

This issue can pop up when doing application or business process migrations. Some businesses use their applications for several years as long as they continue to meet their business needs. However, technology improvements or compliance with industry regulations may require them to upgrade to newer formats.

Suppose the source data from the legacy system uses a format incompatible with the new application you’re migrating to. In that case, it can cause delays while looking for a solution or worse — inaccurate data transfers.

Poor data security

With the average data breach costing $4.45 million in 2023, it’s clear why data privacy is so vital to businesses. However, a lack of proper security measures during data migration can expose sensitive business data to malicious actors.

That’s because while the source and destination platforms for the data may have the necessary levels of security, the transfer medium may lack the encryption needed to protect the data during the migration process, leaving it vulnerable.

Unsecured data can be accessed by malicious actors.

These issues can occur during cloud or datacenter migrations, where the network infrastructure responsible for transferring the data faces a higher risk of tampering. 

Prolonged migration

Migrations can take longer than expected because of bandwidth limitations or underestimating the volume and complexity of the data being transferred.

Regardless of the reason, a lengthy migration process can affect business operations in different ways. For example, if a data migration scheduled for the weekend when no one is using the system extends into Monday, it will disrupt operations and cost the company money.

Best practices for a successful data migration process

To ensure that your migration process goes smoothly, we’ve outlined some things you need to consider. Regardless of the size or type of data you’re moving, these six best practices can help you avoid common migration issues.

6 best practices for a successful data migration.

1. Understand the data migration process

Before planning for a data migration, you should learn all the steps required to succeed.

Most migration scenarios use an ETL process with three sub-steps:

  • Extract the data from its source.
  • Transform the data to make it suitable for transfer.
  • Load the data at its destination.

Everyone on your team involved in the data migration must also understand the process and their role in it. You also need to understand the data that will be migrated, how it's used, and the requirements it needs to meet at its destination for the migration to be successful.

By taking note of these pieces of information, you can design a migration plan with a lower risk of failure.

2. Know your infrastructure

That includes the current system where your data is stored and the new system to which you will move your data. This tip is especially important for complex migrations between data centers or applications. 

Knowing your networking infrastructure can help estimate migration timelines.

Little differences between each system, like the underlying operating system or type of storage media, can impact the migration. Knowledge of these differences will improve the accuracy of your migration plan.

The volume and complexity of the data also play a role here, determining how long the process will take. Migrating data from one hard drive will take a shorter time to execute compared to moving an entire data center’s worth of data.

3. Make a migration plan

The planning stage involves identifying the data that needs to be migrated and figuring out what you need to do to get it to its final destination. That requires a holistic view of the entire process to determine its objectives, scope, costs, potential problems, and timelines.

This step results in a data migration plan that outlines each step of the process, how long it should take, and mitigation procedures for when something goes wrong. This plan will serve as a guide for the migration team to follow.

4. Prepare your data

You need to examine the data that will be migrated to reveal any issues that may affect the migration. That's also an opportunity to clean up your data, remove duplicates, resolve conflicts, and ensure its quality is of the highest standard. 

Depending on the volume of data to be migrated, this can be a long and time-consuming process. Still, preventing any problems during or after the migration is necessary.

5. Back up your data

Once you are done planning the migration and before moving your data to the target system, ensure you create a backup. This backup should include copies of your data, the applications that use it, and server configurations. Ideally, you should store these backups at an offsite location. 

With your backups created and stored safely, you have the confidence to proceed, knowing that you can restore any data lost during the process from your backup files.

6. Test during and after migration

Continuous testing is essential to the success of any data migration process. Knowing where to test and what to test for comes from thoroughly understanding the process and the data you're migrating. That ensures you can quickly detect issues with the process or the data.

With testing, you can immediately detect and fix any issues found during the migration, reducing the likelihood of a delay in the estimated completion time. 

You must verify your data at the destination after migration.

Once the migration is complete, you must verify the data quality and integrity. That will confirm whether the migration was a success and that there was no data loss during the process.

Validation will also check that your data is fully integrated into the new systems, giving you the green light to begin using these systems while also decommissioning the old systems you migrated from.

Final thoughts

Data migrations are well known for being problematic and challenging to troubleshoot. However, with a good understanding of the process and proper planning based on this understanding, you can avoid the common migration problems and move your data with ease.

A partner who knows what to do and has a team of experienced migration experts is also key for successful data migrations. With the Most Helpful Humans in Hosting, Liquid Web can make migrations smooth and painless for your business.

Get in touch today to get started.

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About the Author

Andrej Walilko

Andrej Walilko (RHCE6) is a seasoned Linux Administrator, and he is a Migration Project Manager at Liquid Web, developing specialized processes for complex migration types. He enjoys doing woodworking, home improvement, and playing piano in his free time.

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