Steps for a Successful Data Center Migration

During the M&A process, data centers will be merged, consolidated, and integrated to save money, improve resource efficiency, and better represent the new organization at the end of the merger or acquisition. Data center migration, however, is an enormous, complex process that requires careful planning, assessment, preparation and testing before it can be successfully executed.

A third-party service provider, like Maintech, can provide the necessary expertise to help guide an organization through a difficult, complex data center migration. However, Maintech offers what many third-party migration partners do not: enhanced security, the benefit of experience, and continued service and support even after the data center migration is complete. Maintech offers global management solutions with an international presence, with on-site and remote vendor-neutral support during and after a data center migration procedure.

Data center migrations involve a host of interrelated hardware and software issues. The technology team must gain an in-depth understanding of the existing system: the hardware, layout, storage, used and unused capacity, and circuit requirements for bandwidth that will be required to move data from one location to the next. The team must also learn how different software systems, networks, and applications interact with one another, for functioning, storage, backups, and security, in order to make a detailed plan for a successful data center migration.

Two important concerns for a company considering a data center migration are data security and backups. You can address these concerns by following a four-step process to help reduce these risks and protect vital company data during the disruption of a data center migration.

1. Scope the Data Center Migration: Discovery and Analysis

The first step in preparing for a data center migration is to survey the environment and define the project. At this time, clear objectives should be set, including a manageable timeline for the project. Specific criteria, by which the success or failure of the project will be judged, should be agreed upon by all stakeholders as well.

The infrastructure of the existing data center should be assessed. A detailed hardware inventory is vital, at this point, so that the project leaders can evaluate the existing system, to ensure that the equipment is not out-of-date and that all components of the new data center will be compatible with one another.

Recommendations for replacing outdated equipment can be built into the project plan for a data center migration, so that resources including the cost, and the time required to set up new equipment, are fully outlined from the beginning stages.

During the discovery phase, once the hardware has been assessed, the team should move on to next-level migration issues. What are the current bandwidth requirements? What types of storage and circuits will be necessary during and after the data center migration? This is also an ideal time to consider whether the organization will be best served by taking advantage of a technological advancement or upgrade, for example,

The data stored within the system must also be assessed, to ensure that there is a clear picture of the amount of data, and the speed with which data is replicated so that plans can be made for migrating the data itself. The team should also address existing cybersecurity strategies, to assess the risk of a potential breach and to document which parties have access to different types of data.

Finally, the company should assess the backup process and procedure to ensure that it is strong enough to provide a failsafe in case of any problems in transferring data at the final stage of the data center migration.

At the end of this step, the technology group should have clear objectives for the data center migration, criteria by which success will be measured, a detailed inventory with recommendations for potential equipment purchase, and a detailed understanding of the data, security, and backup systems currently in use.

2. Architect a Methodology

At this point, the organization must create a detailed, step-by-step plan for a successful execution of the data center migration project from start to finish. This should include a plan for what to migrate first – generally, beginning with low-risk data. Every step of the project plan should have an owner, with responsibility for planning, completing and verifying that each phase is completed correctly before the next one begins.

Circuits should be ordered at the earliest possible moment, as the timeline for ordering circuits to transport data can vary widely from one provider to another. Different circuits also have bandwidth constraints, which must be taken into account as the plan is constructed, so that the migration plan is as accurate as possible.

Depending on the provider and the existing environment, setting the path for a transfer of data can take weeks or even months, and will likely be the determining factor in the overall project timeline.

Thorough pre-testing of the methodology, once it is set, should be conducted to ensure that there will be no hiccups during the migration. A thorough test must include a test overview, encompassing tools, reporting, structure, and constraints; unit test specifications, and integration testing – and each step may be revised and repeated should the test reveal any weaknesses in the migration methodology.

Finally, a recovery plan will be constructed for each stage of the migration, followed by a go-live plan.

3. Data Preparation

In preparing the data for migration, the two paramount concerns for data security and data backup must continue to be addressed. The first stage of data preparation is to understand and identify the environment in which the data is contained. Truly understanding the data environment means a full comprehension of the purpose of the data, the specific information that is housed, and the necessity of keeping that data in its entirety. A fresh set of eyes on a legacy data environment can help to determine whether a ‘spring cleaning’ might be necessary for data that is expired, or no longer in use.

At this time, data should be monitored to see whether customers are experiencing any issues with the data as-is. Landscape analysis can check how each system works, how the data within each system is structured, and to define how the front end uses the database to further clarify the environment. Data assurance then validates the data identified in the landscape analysis, to ensure that all data is fit for its intended purpose. Data profiling provides a data quality check, a data format check, and ensures that historical information is suitable for the new requirements of the organization. A retirement plan should be created and used to remove the data no longer required so that valuable resources are not used to transfer irrelevant or unusable data.

Finally, data verification – followed by data cleansing – provides for data that is available, accessible, complete, and in the correct format. A data impact analysis ensures that data cleansing does not have a knock-on effect on other elements within the source and target systems.

4. Execution of the Data Center Migration

Preparation and post-migration, when done correctly, should make for a seamless and straightforward process for the actual data migration. All of the critical, challenging tasks are encompassed in the scope, architect, and preparation phases. Once those steps are completed correctly – even if they require multiple attempts to finalize – the actual data center migration should be straightforward and relatively effortless.

A merger or acquisition represents a significant upheaval for an organization and its employees, but mainly for the technology teams involved. A data center migration is a complex, challenging, and time-intensive project; and if mishandled could have a significant adverse effect on how the merger or acquisition is perceived.

A study by Bain Consulting showed that IT-dependent synergies contribute 30-60% of a merger’s benefits. Should the IT integration fail during an M&A, the success of the overall endeavor is jeopardized. With the pressure increasing, and the visibility of the technology department high during this time, it is vital that IT leaders make every effort to ensure that data is stored securely, remains secure throughout the integration and migration process, and that backups are complete, secure, and available if needed.

Even a sophisticated process becomes easier with experience. A merger or acquisition, and related data center migration will likely be an infrequent occurrence in the career of an IT leader. A third-party provider with experience in data migration, particularly one that, like Maintech, provides enhanced security and ongoing post-migration support, is a valuable tool for the forward-thinking manager.

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