According to the Google Cloud Brand Pulse Survey, Q4 2022, 41 percent of global tech and business leaders are planning to increase their cloud investments in 2023. Google attributes this trend to concerns about the economy, but moving to the cloud offers many other benefits besides just financial resilience.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to pull off a successful cloud migration, taking a look at the benefits, strategies, challenges, best practices, tools, and trends of moving to the cloud. Let’s jump in!

What is cloud migration?

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A cloud migration is the process of moving an organization’s on-premises digital assets to a cloud computing environment. Organizations moving to the cloud can move as much or as little of their assets as they want, but a cloud migration usually entails moving at least some applications and data.

Depending on the size of the organization and its digital footprint, a cloud migration can be a relatively simple process to be completed in a week or two, or it can be highly complex, taking many months to a couple years to complete.Many organizations today adopt a hybrid approach, moving some business resources to the cloud and keeping others on-premises—especially when they deal with sensitive data. It’s also becoming more common for organizations to use a multi-cloud architecture, where assets in the cloud are split among more than one cloud vendor.

Key benefits of moving to the cloud

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Different organizations move to the cloud for different reasons. But in general, these are the key benefits moving to the cloud:

  • Cost savings. The cloud eliminates the need to maintain your own physical infrastructure, which can be quite costly. Plus, the hyperscale data centers that power the cloud are far more efficient than conventional on-prem data centers, using server virtualization to get much more computing power out of a single server than what you’d find in a typical data center.
  • Increased security. Some people have reservations about the cloud for security reasons, but the truth is, the cloud is usually more secure than on-premises servers. Data centers have strict physical and digital safeguards and usually employ the latest hardware to improve their security postures.
  • Scalability. Many popular cloud computing services like Amazon EC2 come with built-in autoscaling. This means your cloud resources respond to fluctuating demand in real time, boosting uptime and improving performance for your instances.
  • Improved performance. With scalability and the latest data center hardware comes improved performance for end users. Cloud computing providers can devote more resources to make systems run quickly and reliably, passing those benefits on to customers.
  • Better accessibility. When your data and applications live in the cloud, you can access them from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. This is a big advantage over resources hosted on-premises, where you usually have to be at the physical location to connect to the local network in order to access your data and applications.

Cloud migration strategies

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After you decide to move to the cloud, it’s time to choose a migration strategy. Again, cloud migration projects can vary greatly, but there are three main strategies organizations take when moving to the cloud.

  1. Lift and shift. This is the simplest and quickest way to migrate to the cloud. Also called a workload rehost, a lift and shift migration entails redeploying your applications in their current form to the cloud. This is a good approach when you can easily identify and map application components to the cloud, but it isn’t the right strategy for every project.
  2. Replatform. A replatform strategy involves optimizing application code to run in the cloud before redeploying it. This strategy is more complex than lift and shift, but it’s a good approach when you have concerns about app performance suffering from moving as-is to the cloud.
  3. Refactor. A refactor strategy is similar to a replatform but consists of more substantial code changes. Some people go even further with this strategy, dividing it into two sub-strategies: optimization and innovation. Optimization involves major code updates, while innovation means completely rebuilding your application to be cloud-native.

Cloud migration strategy pros and cons

Each migration strategy comes with its pros and cons. See the table below to get an idea of which strategy might be best for your organization.

Pros Cons Use when…
Lift and shift Reduces capital expenditure (capex) spending Works well for simple applications, but not so much for more complex ones Migrating simple applications that are not highly resource-intensive
Relatively easy and inexpensive Can cause performance issues
Fast ROI compared to other strategies
Replatform Improved cloud efficiency over lift and shift Requires some automation You have performance concerns about doing a lift and shift
Code portability Limited to common cloud components You don’t have the time/budget to refactor
Faster, shorter updates
Refactor Best cloud efficiency of any other strategy More time‑consuming and expensive than other strategies You need access to more specialized cloud components
Better long term investment than lift and shift Can lead to vendor lock‑in You want increased access to cloud benefits like durability and resiiency
Better durability for applications in the cloud

The cloud migration process

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The next step of your cloud migration journey involves executing on the cloud migration methodology. AWS—the largest cloud computing provider by far—recommends organizations follow the following methodology when migrating to the cloud.

  1. Assess. Complete the AWS Migration Readiness Assessment and analyze the results with your team. This will give you a good sense of how ready you are to migrate and will help you build a business case with leadership.
  2. Mobilize. The mobilize phase typically consists of multiple work streams, but in general, it involves scoping out the migration project and assigning tasks.
  3. Migrate and modernize. Execution time. Build a migration factory consisting of different teams working simultaneously to migrate your workloads. Larger migrations might have one team focused on rehosting, one on replatforming, and one on refactoring. Using your agile method of choice, review the migration and identify steps you need to take to optimize app performance in the cloud.

Depending on who you ask, you might see this process broken down further into more discrete phases. For instance, some people divide the mobilize phase into two steps—plan and prepare—while others break the migrate and modernize phase into two separate steps—migrate and optimize. No matter how you slice it, the migration process itself looks much the same across organizations, with the biggest differences being migration strategies, cost, and time.

Best practices for a successful cloud migration

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To position yourself for success in your migration, it’s a good idea to create a cloud center of excellence (CCoE). This is an internal business function consisting of stakeholders from multiple departments or teams that oversees the cloud migration from start to finish. They’re responsible for deciding on a cloud migration strategy, governance model, and best practices for other members of the organization to follow.

In addition to forming a CCoE, you might need to bring on additional employees or contractors to fill in technical gaps in your team. Some organizations also bring on cloud migration consultants to advise on best practices throughout the project.

Cloud migration challenges

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Don’t be fooled by seemingly clean-cut processes and methods—migrating to the cloud can be tricky! Here are some common challenges businesses face in their cloud migration journeys.

Scope creep

As any project manager will tell you, large projects like cloud migrations can easily fall prey to scope creep. This is project management speak for when projects—especially big, complex ones—get delayed or go over-budget, usually multiple times. It’s impossible to totally eliminate the risk of scope creep, but there are steps you can take to minimize that risk.

Vendor lock-in

This can especially be a problem for replatform and refactor migrations where an organization has to optimize or re-write code to perform better in a cloud environment. Depending on how much you change code, you might end up with an application that works well on AWS but doesn’t work as well on, say, Azure or Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Some organizations might take issue with this, as it can hinder them from distributing risk across several vendors. If an issue arises with one vendor, for instance, you can’t fall back to another vendor.

Poor preparation

Maybe the biggest and most preventable challenge facing cloud migrations is lack of proper preparation, plain and simple. Moving to the cloud is an exciting prospect, but it is definitely not something you want to rush into. It may seem tedious, but taking the time to properly assess and mobilize (remember the three steps we covered earlier?) pays dividends when it comes time to start moving business applications.

Security and compliance

Particularly relevant to highly regulated industries, it can be tough to maintain security and compliance during a cloud migration. The more sensitive the data, the harder it gets. Overcoming this challenge requires good preparation and communication between all parties involved with your migration.

Cloud migration tools and services

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If you plan to go with one of the Big Three cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft Azure, and GCP), you can use one of the tools they provide to help organizations migrate their workloads:

  • AWS Migration Hub is a place where you can assess, plan, and track the data for the workloads you want to migrate
  • Azure Migrate is a similar service from Microsoft for those wanting to migrate to Azure
  • Google Cloud Migration is a resource library of products and services you can use to streamline your migration to GCP

Beyond these resources, it’s a good idea to explore third-party tools and to compare cloud migration consulting services. Software review sites like G2 and Capterra can be good places to evaluate migration tools, and independent consultants offer migration consulting services through Nerdly.

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Before you begin your cloud migration, take some time to educate yourself about some of the biggest trends in cloud migration today.

  • Hybrid cloud is becoming more popular. Organizations with highly sensitive data and those wary of becoming beholden to any one particular cloud provider are especially keen on adopting a hybrid cloud infrastructure. This is definitely an area to watch as more cloud providers realize this trend isn’t going away anytime soon and respond accordingly through evolving cloud services.
  • AI and ML. Need we say more? OpenAI kicked the business AI arms race into high gear with the release of ChatGPT, and that means a serious increase in demand for powerful cloud computing services. If your organization uses AI in its products or business applications, do your homework to see which cloud provider offers the best compute and storage services for AI.
  • Sustainability takes a front row seat. While the impacts may largely be invisible to most people, the technology we use in our businesses and as consumers has a big impact on the environment. Cloud computing can help lessen that impact, with the Big Three cloud providers making big strides in sustainability and even driving innovation in areas like renewable energy and energy efficiency that gets passed on to other sectors.
  • Serverless is becoming more popular. Technical stakeholders have come to embrace serverless technology, as it frees developers and engineers from having to manage servers, allowing them to focus on doing what they do best. More and more cloud services are going serverless, so do some research ahead of time to decide for yourself which providers offer the best serverless options for your organization.

Start your cloud migration off on the right foot

Ready to start reaping all the benefits the cloud has to offer? Download our ebook “AWS Migration Hiring Framework” for in-depth information on executing a successful cloud migration and building the teams you’ll need to do so.

A photo AWS Migration Hiring Framework ebook cover.

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AWS Migration Hiring Framework

Build your cloud migration dream team with guidance from NerdRabbit’s free cloud migration hiring framework.

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About Forrest Brown
Forrest Brown is the Content Manager at NerdRabbit. An AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, he lives in Atlanta with his wife and two cats.

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