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Migration Mitigation: Sound strategies and cost-effective best practices to keep your server migrations from heading south.

Posted on 2.01.2015

By Ryan Pelerin

When moving into a new house, the last thing on your mind is uprooting and moving into your next house. For a growing family, however, the need for more space or updated amenities can make another move inevitable.

Similarly, for growing businesses, there are parallel reasons why Web/data migrations are necessary—the need for more servers, outgrowing a previous provider, adding more staff and customers, or simply taking advantage of emerging technologies like cloud hosting.

When a business first sets up its website and application servers, it doesn’t do so with migration in mind. Instead, it focuses on getting its website online, and making sure its email, CRM tools, accounting systems, etc., are available quickly and are running smoothly. As a result, most businesses do not plan, let alone budget, for future server migrations. While the reasons for a migration vary, the reality is every online entity will have to move to a new server at some point. Companies need to appreciate the importance of a migration, and understand the costs and consequences of different migration strategies and solutions.

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How that migration unfolds depends on a wide range of variables and can become an expensive endeavor if not planned for and executed correctly. In that context, IT staff, website directors and chief information officers (CIOs) need to become familiar with the specialized techniques and strategies to perform server migrations. This includes avoiding budget overruns, such as identifying, vetting and leveraging experts with proven technical skills and knowledge about automated migration tools, the importance of migration planning and testing, and the capability to ensure a successful migration while keeping production sites and servers “live” to avoid disruption of business operations or worse, loss of revenue.

Understand the “What” and “Why”

The first step in executing an efficient and cost-effective server migration is to answer two important questions. First: What are you moving? Stakeholders need to understand the composition and construct of their applications, such as websites, software, business systems and email, and what kind of hosting platforms are best suited for each. Since most organizations don’t typically document their digital assets, plan to engage a professional services organization to review and inventory servers and applications in advance of a migration.

The second question is: Why are you moving? Perhaps business growth requires more servers, there’s a want to adopt cloud hosting or to replace a current hosting provider. Answering this question will set the stage to specify what type of hosting services is required and define the proper migration path.

Consider the Price Tag

Numerous options and approaches can impact the cost of a migration, ranging from sophisticated migration software that automates data shifts for moving a high volume of servers (typically hundreds or more) in a “like-to-like” migration, to specialty service providers that offer comprehensive “white-glove” migration services.

Specialized migration service providers can deliver not only the technical tools, methodologies and expertise, but also the strategic counsel, advanced testing and ongoing DevOps support to ensure a successful server migration well beyond go-live. For example, find a provider that can enhance the migration by offering load testing and performance tuning of website applications prior to going live. This can avoid costly downtime once the site launches. Without such a test, an e-commerce site could go down as soon as it’s migrated—a far more costly issue than migration itself.

Migration Meltdowns

Hear real-world server migration stories at

Ask the Right Questions

Just as choosing the right hosting solution is critical; selecting the right migration services provider can also be a difference-maker. When evaluating the experience and expertise of a migration partner, ask detailed questions including:

+ How many migrations have you performed?
+ Have you previously migrated servers and applications similar to mine?
+ Do you have the capability/resources to fix application layer errors or perform upgrades for compatibility with new architecture?
+ Are migration services your core business?
+ Do you guarantee a successful migration?

Understand the Variables

As servers and software evolve, variables become more common and potentially complex, including upgrading application versions (similar to Windows updates on a PC, hosting servers require ongoing patching and periodic OS upgrades). There are unique considerations when moving from a physical to cloud environment. In this scenario, the best bet is to engage a specialized migration services partner who can make specific recommendations for an application/website in terms of what kind of new environment to migrate.

Don’t Ignore the Worst-Case Scenario

When it comes to migrations, it pays to plan for the worst. Identify problems in advance that may create downtime or other issues, and create a contingency plan. A migration mistake can mean everything from revenue loss to the expense of engaging a specialist to resolve time-sensitive problems. In the event of a migration failure, do stakeholders know what happens next? Ensure a migration team has a plan in place to immediately direct services back to the original servers in a worst-case scenario.

Additionally, thoroughly test all migrated applications before go-live. A migration expert should provide testing instructions and oversight, as well as the ability to resolve any errors, prior to taking websites and applications “live” at the new servers. If testing is overlooked, businesses run the significant risk of having costly technical problems arise later.

Initiating a data migration effort can seem like a daunting task. Even the most disciplined organizations may approach the process with feelings of uncertainty and doubt, devoting enormous amounts of critical resources to executing a successful migration. In that context, the guidance and support of a provider who is not only experienced, but whose scope of service is a good fit for your needs, is critically important.

Ryan Pelerin serves as founding partner and COO of WSM International (formerly Website Movers), a leading Web-data server migration services provider and creators of the Web and data migration services industry.


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