Data center migration is a pivotal consideration for expanding organizations when their current data solutions become insufficient for their evolving needs. This need for expansion, whether to support a new application launch or to tap into a wider array of connectivity options, frequently prompts companies to transition to a new data environment.

Data center migration involves moving servers, storage, and networking equipment from one location to another, often termed “lift and shift.” This process transfers IT operations from the original source data center to a new destination site, while minimizing downtime and ensuring data integrity.

Dgtl Infra explores the intricate process of data center migration, detailing the “lift and shift” strategy and the compelling reasons behind such moves, including cost reduction, technological upgrades, and capacity expansion. Learn about the meticulous planning and strategic framework necessary for a seamless migration, ensuring operational continuity, and minimizing risks. Keep reading to understand the critical steps, from inventory and documentation to post-migration reviews, that make data center migrations successful.

What is a Data Center Migration?

Data center migration is the process of relocating an organization’s current data center assets – such as servers, storage systems, and networking equipment – to a new data center location or environment. Often described as a “lift and shift,” this process transfers the organization’s operational IT assets to a different site. The ‘source’ location is the original data center where the assets are currently housed, while the ‘destination’ location is the new site to which everything is being moved.

Data Center IT Engineers Working On Server Networking Transition Move

Key tasks in the data center migration process include:

  • Application Migration: Moving applications between computing environments
  • Storage Migration: Transferring data between storage systems
  • Database Migration: Shifting data from one database system to another

Executing a data center migration requires careful planning to minimize downtime and ensure data integrity. Utilizing specialized tools and services is critical for data transfer and infrastructure setup. The process involves a methodical transfer of the data center’s functional capabilities, followed by the physical or virtual relocation of its components to the new facility.

Key Factors Influencing Data Center Migration Decisions

Moving IT Hardware Rack Cabinet on Data Center Raised Floor

Organizations decide to migrate their data centers due to a variety of critical factors:

  1. Cost Reduction: Operating outdated hardware or managing an inefficient, underutilized data center can be expensive. Migrating to a modern facility can reduce costs related to energy consumption, maintenance, and real estate
  2. Technological Advancements: The need to deploy newer, more efficient, and powerful infrastructure can drive the data center migration decision. Upgrading to newer hardware or software often requires changes in the physical or virtual infrastructure that are best accomplished by moving to a new environment
  3. Capacity Expansion: As demands from users and applications grow, a corresponding expansion in data center capacity is required. When existing data centers lack the necessary space, power, or cooling capabilities for growth, migration becomes essential to accommodate the increased data requirements and the infrastructure for physical hardware. Often, insufficient cooling density per rack acts as a catalyst for starting a data center migration
  4. Consolidation: Corporate strategic shifts, including mergers and acquisitions, may result in an organization operating several disparate data centers. Unifying these into a single facility can streamline complexity and operational costs while enhancing overall efficiency and scalability. For instance, operating multiple regional data centers can lead to standardization issues, inefficiencies, and challenges in meeting growth and service level goals. Consolidation serves as a solution to these challenges
  5. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity: To improve IT operational resilience, organizations may opt for data centers in varied geographic locations. This diversification is a strategy to mitigate the impact of natural disasters (such as earthquakes or floods) or power disruptions. It’s particularly relevant when an organization’s current data centers are situated too close to one another
  6. Performance Optimization: Migrating to a data center location with superior connectivity and high-bandwidth access to internet backbones can significantly enhance user performance. This strategy is critical when existing facilities fall short of performance benchmarks, such as latency, bandwidth, and uptime. For instance, relocating to carrier hotels or edge data centers can reduce network latency for users
  7. Regulatory Compliance and Data Sovereignty: Shifts in the legal or regulatory requirements might compel a migration to data centers designed to comply to particular standards and laws, especially those concerning data privacy and protection (e.g., the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation)
  8. Cloud or Colocation Strategy: Migrating to cloud-based services or third-party colocation facilities is often driven by the desire to outsource non-core functions. Companies may shift away from on-premises infrastructure to public, private, or hybrid cloud solutions, or colocation facilities, seeking increased operational flexibility and cost-efficiency, or to address the shortage of in-house IT expertise

Data Center Migration Checklist – Planning and Strategy

The following checklist is designed for use by individuals involved in the planning, strategy, and execution of a data center migration, such as data center operators, IT administrators, and facilities managers. It will help these professionals efficiently manage essential tasks and minimize both downtime and risk throughout the data center migration process.

Digital Checkmark Glowing Overlay on Blue Cyber Future Background

1. Strategic Migration Framework

  • Leadership Assignment: Appoint a project manager for the data center migration with the necessary authority to lead the migration. This person should be capable of collaborating across departments, managing the migration, communicating updates, and ensuring project success
  • Contract Assessment: Examine all relevant contracts, such as licenses, warranties, service level agreements (SLAs), and operational level agreements (OLAs). Look for clauses that could impact the budget or schedule, like early termination fees. Confirm that these agreements are up-to-date and applicable at the new location, and update the facility address accordingly
  • Documentation Verification: Establish a central documentation repository that all parties involved can access for reliable information. This should include network layouts, facility schematics, and databases as appropriate
  • Detailed Planning: Develop a comprehensive data center migration project plan. This plan should define the methods, timelines, and personnel involved, including detailed tasks, roles and responsibilities, budget, risk management strategies, communication strategies, success metrics, and contingency plans. It will guide the team on when downtime will occur and when stakeholders should be notified
  • Plan Review: Present the proposed data center migration project plan to all relevant parties, soliciting their review and secure support from all IT and business stakeholders

2. Asset and Application Inventory

  • Inventory Method: Determine whether the asset inventory should be conducted through physical audits, with automated discovery tools, or through a combination of both approaches
  • Identification System: Implement asset tagging and tracking methods such as barcodes, color-coding, alphanumeric tags, labels, RFID tags, or QR codes to uniquely identify and monitor inventory throughout the relocation process. This system should track items scheduled for relocation, detailing their destination points, as well as the necessary connectors or installation equipment required for each item
  • Hardware Inventory: Catalog all data center hardware (e.g., servers, switches, routers, storage area networks) and software, as well as environmental controls, security systems, and power supplies, to identify migration needs and ownership
  • Network Resources: Record all network infrastructure and configurations – server IP addresses, wide area network (WAN) links, telecom circuits, domain names – and trace cables to document current layouts and connections for accurate rerouting
  • Application Inventory: Inventory all applications active on the current hardware and determine the physical or logical systems they utilize
  • Dependency Mapping: Create an application and service dependency map to understand how various applications and data interact and rely on each other, ensuring there are no operational disruptions during the migration process
  • Migration Decisions: Determine which assets will be moved to the new data center location, which will be replaced, and which are to be decommissioned
Professionals Analyzing Asset Inventory In Server Farm Aisle Row

3. Destination Infrastructure Design

  • Resource Assessment: Determine the additional hardware, software, and staff that the new data center will require, including the necessary support infrastructure such as power and cooling systems. Perform capacity planning to forecast growth and ensure the new facility can support expansion
  • Layout Assessment: Evaluate the configuration of the destination data center’s floor plan to establish the placement of equipment
  • Power Alignment: Ensure that IT deployment aligns with the allocated electrical load capacity per rack unit and aisle, considering both the initial move and future expansion for failover configurations
  • Virtual Modeling: Construct a digital model of the equipment arrangement and connections to preview the post-relocation configuration, typically done with DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) software
  • Network Collaboration: Work with the network engineering team to develop the network design and integrate this data into the project’s central documentation repository
  • Cable Management: Determine the appropriate cable lengths needed for all power and data connections to prevent disorganization after migration. Create a patching schedule for the destination site, detailing the precise connections and network ports that will be utilized at the new location

4. Pre-Migration Readiness

  • Service Scheduling: Decide whether to use a migration service early on and, if required, schedule it in advance. Assess the feasibility of a phased migration to minimize disruption to critical systems and applications
  • Site Familiarization: Acquaint the team with the new data center’s layout, including entry points and functional access areas, and ensure all team members have the necessary access credentials
  • Logistics Coordination: Organize the transport logistics for equipment, which includes arranging moving services such as vehicles or aircraft, coordinating on-site moving resources like server lifts and rolling carts, planning the sequence of hardware relocation, and outlining installation responsibilities
  • Installation Manuals: Prepare detailed installation guides for each piece of equipment, detailing rack positions and interconnectivity requirements within the new data center environment
  • Trial Run: Perform test runs using non-critical data to refine the migration plan and validate the network configurations and power sequences. Track and record these tests, sharing outcomes with the data center migration and management team
  • Backup Strategy: Execute a complete backup of the current data center and confirm data retrieval from this backup to mitigate potential migration issues
  • Disaster Planning: Establish a robust disaster recovery strategy for potential hardware malfunctions or unexpected prolonged outages, including a detailed rollback plan in case the migration encounters significant problems

5. Execution of the Migration

  • Move Planning: Ensure all equipment has arrived and all personnel required for the migration are present and accounted for before commencement. Provide detailed migration schematics for each IT asset, specifying cabinet locations, rack unit (U) positions, and connections
  • Timing: Schedule data and service migrations for off-hours, such as weekends, ensuring all network, application, system administrator, and facilities teams are on standby. This minimizes conflict with other network activities and reduces the magnitude of any temporary reductions in service levels
  • Hardware Preparation: Shut down and de-rack all critical hardware according to procedures, and protect it with anti-static bubble wrap. This includes servers, routers, storage appliances, switches, and firewalls
  • Security Assurance: Ensure hardware is transported securely in foam-lined flight cases, with security measures such as GPS tracking and police escorts for vehicle transport, plus encryption for data in transit. Maintain comprehensive insurance coverage to mitigate the costs of any transport-related damages
  • Data Transfer: Methodically transfer applications and data to the new site. Once at the destination, verify the integrity of flight cases before unpacking. Re-rack devices in the new data center, follow the recommissioning schedule, and power up the equipment
  • Plan Adherence: Adhere closely to the data center migration project plan to minimize downtime, with a focus on thorough preparation and clear timelines
  • Progress Tracking: Closely monitor migration progress, keep the asset management system updated, and adapt plans as necessary to meet deadlines and resume operations

6. Post-Migration Review

  • Performance Validation: Verify the performance of server provisioning, storage, network, security, applications, and services. Test and validate that all systems and application interdependencies are functioning correctly in the new environment before the cutover of services
  • Support Services: Have dedicated on-site engineers available to address any immediate issues or requests for changes in the rack layout or setup during the power-up phase
  • Audit and Decommissioning: Conduct random inspections for hardware setups and connectivity, then implement eco-friendly decommissioning and recycling practices for old equipment and infrastructure
  • Training and Documentation: Offer detailed training for operations staff tailored to the new environment’s complexity. Update technical documentation to accurately reflect changes in the new setup

Best Practices and Key Steps for a Data Center Migration

The following best practices and key steps for a data center migration provide a framework and guidelines to ensure the smooth transition of IT assets, applications, and services from one physical location to another, minimizing risks and downtime.

Professionals Analyzing IT Facility Servers Configurations

1. Justifying the Move

Organizations need to identify the business case for migrating an existing data center to a new one. This includes first conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis to establish the financial, technical, and strategic advantages of moving to a new facility. Data center migration can potentially bring improved performance, scalability, cost savings, and risk mitigation that aligns with the organization’s long-term business goals and technological needs.

2. Stakeholder Engagement

Obtaining buy-in from key stakeholders is crucial for ensuring the success of a data center migration. Best practice involves early and transparent communication about the migration’s benefits, risks, and impacts. Effective ongoing communication involves executive dashboards, application owner and user updates, moving team briefings, and regular progress reports to all stakeholders.

3. Phased Planning

Data center migrations should be planned in phases to effectively manage computational and network workloads, ensuring minimal downtime. It’s crucial to maintain system integrity by conducting rigorous testing and validation at each stage.

For large data centers, this phased approach may involve migrating server clusters or interdependent servers together within the same phase to maintain operations, while scheduling the relocation of development and production systems in separate intervals. Establishing a secondary or leased Storage Area Network (SAN) at the new data centers allows for pre-migration data replication, significantly reducing the risk of data loss.

4. Security Protocols

During a migration, the project manager and security personnel must strictly control physical access to the data center. Additional guards should be stationed in areas with high foot traffic. All participants, including vendors and specialists on standby, must have pre-authorized access. This process includes validation of external staff credentials, assignment of specific access times and clearance levels, acquisition of management’s endorsement, and provision of detailed documentation to security. Additionally, IT equipment that is temporarily stored should be under constant surveillance through CCTV or direct observation by security staff.

5. Backout Strategy

During a data center migration, it’s crucial to have a well-defined backout process, which outlines specific conditions and steps to revert to the original setup if needed. Additionally, a rollback service is essential; it consists of a dedicated team ready to quickly implement the backout process, ensuring uninterrupted service. These processes are vital to a contingency plan and being prepared for any problems that may occur when powering up equipment at the new data center.

6. Safety Prioritization

Confirm that the destination data center is equipped with appropriate safety signs and that safety equipment, including fire extinguishers and first-aid kits, is in working order. There should also be well-marked evacuation routes with fully functional electronic locking systems. When handling heavy items, seek assistance if the weight exceeds a single person’s capacity, and always use electrical or mechanical server lifts in accordance with local safety regulations.

Challenges and Risks of Data Center Migration

Data center migration involves numerous complex and interrelated tasks that can pose significant challenges and risks.

Data Center Migration Teams Work with Equipment Boxes Across the Floor

1. Downtime and Service Interruption

During data center migration, there is a risk of extended downtime which can affect business operations. Common cause of this downtime include equipment failure, software incompatibilities, network disruptions, and human error. Ensuring minimal downtime requires detailed planning and careful execution, and often involves migrating critical applications and systems in phases, either outside of business hours or during periods of low activity.

2. Data Loss and Corruption

There is a risk of losing data or experiencing data corruption during the migration process, which can have severe consequences for an organization’s operations and reputation. Common cause of this include provider networking issues, unexpected power outages, breaks in communication during data transfer, security vulnerabilities, errors in data retention policies, and human error. Rigorous backup, recovery plans, and data integrity checks are crucial to prevent the loss or corruption of critical data.

3. Cost and Schedule Overruns

Data center migrations often end up being more costly and time consuming than initially expected. Unforeseen complications, delays, and the need for additional resources can drive up costs. For example, additional expenses in the data center migration process may include employee overtime, extra bandwidth for data replication, increased insurance costs, hardware upgrades, vendor support during the move, communication with end users, the cost of supplies such as patch cables, and rental equipment.

Therefore, it is crucial to have a well-defined budget and contingency plans in place. By conducting a trial run with non-essential data, organizations can obtain a rough estimate of how long the entire data center migration will take, helping to avoid surprises later and ensure that downtime is accounted for properly.

4. Compatibility and Dependency Issues

There may be hardware or software compatibility issues when migrating to a new environment. This can be caused by outdated hardware not supporting new software, different server architectures, software dependencies that are no longer supported, poorly documented code, firmware incompatibilities, and inadequate testing of the new environment.

For example, data center migrations often encounter issues with IP addressing, particularly when applications or systems have hard-coded IP addresses that do not match the new environment’s addressing scheme. This can lead to connectivity failures and service disruptions. To mitigate this risk, meticulously map and update IP configurations to ensure a smooth transition.

5. Capacity and Performance Planning

Data center migration requires careful planning for space, power, cooling, and network capacity to meet IT demands without over-provisioning or under-provisioning, which can lead to wasted resources or performance issues. Accurate estimation of performance levels and storage capacity is critical to avoid slow application response times, user dissatisfaction, or data loss from inadequate space. Planning must also include scalability and flexibility to adapt to future growth and changing demands.

6. Network Latency

Data center migrations, especially when they involve consolidating multiple facilities into fewer sites, can lead to higher network latency. This issue arises when application servers are moved to locations that are farther away, causing data to travel longer distances. Additionally, network issues like jitter and packet loss can worsen the performance of these applications. Minimizing network latency following these types of data center migrations can be achieved by optimizing data routing and utilizing content delivery networks (CDNs).

Types of Data Center Migrations

The various types of data center migration each come with unique considerations, all aimed at enhancing an organization’s IT infrastructure. These include the traditional “lift and shift” strategy, which moves operations from one on-premises data center to another. Additionally, some organizations outsource their data center functions to a colocation or cloud environment, typically starting their data center migration with a phased transfer of applications.

Computer Facility Servers and Technicians Working in the Space

On-Premises to On-Premises

Migrating from one on-premises data center to another involves the transfer of data, applications, workloads, IT equipment, and software from one physical site to another within the same company infrastructure. Organizations often undertake this to consolidate their data centers, upgrade to more modern facilities, expand into a larger space, or as a result of corporate relocation.

This type of migration typically follows a “lift and shift” approach, wherein applications and workloads are relocated to a new environment with little to no changes in their architecture or configuration. IT administrators transfer virtual machines (VMs), along with the accompanying physical hardware – servers, storage systems, and networking equipment – to the new data center location without significant modifications. The intent is to maintain the same operating environment in the destination data center as the source location.

Colocation Migration

Colocation migration involves a business relocating its servers, storage systems, and networking equipment from its own data center to a third-party colocation facility. This transition allows organizations to benefit from the infrastructure of a sophisticated data center, which includes enhanced security measures, reliable power and cooling systems, and diverse connectivity options, all without the need to personally manage the data center operations. However, the main challenge in colocation migration lies in managing the logistics of the move while ensuring a seamless connection between the colocation data center and the company’s existing on-premise systems.

A colocation migration might also occur when a company decides to transfer its infrastructure from one colocation facility to another. This could be driven by various factors, including the desire for better pricing, enhanced connectivity, closer proximity to customers or key markets, the end of an existing lease, or dissatisfaction with the current service provider.

For instance, in 2023, the global tech giant Dell was confronted with an urgent and complex challenge: migrating their colocation data center away from Cyxtera’s Chiago ORD3 facility, which was scheduled to shut down, to prevent disruptions for their 18 customers at the site. Initially projected to take 18 months, this migration was fraught with logistical complexities, strict certification demands, and up to $75 million in unexpected costs.

Cloud Migration

Cloud migration is the process of moving data, applications, services, hardware, and software from an organization’s on-premises data centers or colocation facilities to a cloud service provider’s (CSP) infrastructure. Notable CSPs include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud.

This transition, commonly referred to as cloud adoption, enables businesses to dynamically scale their resources based on demand, reduce operational expenses, and improve their disaster recovery capabilities. To aid in this migration, CSPs often provide specialized tools and services that streamline the process.

For instance, financial services behemoth J.P. Morgan has successfully transferred 50% of its data and applications to a combination of public and private cloud environments. The company has set an ambitious goal to relocate 80% of its infrastructure to the cloud within the next three years. This strategic move has reduced the company’s reliance on physical hardware and substantially enhanced its compute power and storage capacity.

Hybrid Cloud Migration

A hybrid cloud migration is the process of moving workloads between an on-premises data center or private cloud and a public cloud, creating an environment where applications can operate seamlessly across both environments. This approach offers flexibility, allowing businesses to keep sensitive data on-premises while leveraging the scalability of the public cloud for certain applications and workloads. It requires robust networking, careful data governance, and a strategy that aligns with the company’s performance (e.g., latency), security, and regulatory requirements.

Data Center Migration Services and Companies

When undertaking a data center migration, it’s important to understand the types of services available and the companies facilitating those aspects of the migration process.

Company Working On Moving IT Equipment In Lowly Lit Datacenter for Customer
  1. IT Consultancies and Managed Service Providers (MSPs): These firms specialize in IT and network consulting, including the planning and management of data center migrations. They can provide end-to-end services, from initial assessment and planning to the final migration and post-migration support. Companies such as Accenture, Deloitte, and Infosys fall into this category
  2. Data Center Relocation Specialists: These companies focus on the physical aspect of a data center migration. They handle the logistics of moving servers, storage units, and other critical IT hardware from one physical location to another. They specialize in the packing, transport, and reinstallation of IT equipment, ensuring that hardware is moved safely and securely, with minimal risk of damage or data loss. Companies like Park Place Technologies and Rahi Systems belong to this group
  3. Cloud Service Providers (CSPs): CSPs like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud provide the cloud infrastructure, as well as offer migration services to help businesses move their operations to the cloud

Data Center Migration Tools and Solutions

Data center migration tools and solutions are specialized software products or platforms designed to assist organizations in moving their data center operations from one location to another. These tools include:

  1. Assessment and Planning Tools: These tools analyze the current data center setup, including hardware, software, dependencies, and performance metrics. They help in creating a migration plan that outlines the resources and steps needed for a successful migration. Tools in this category include DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) software, auto discovery tools, application dependency mapping tools, and network emulator tools
  2. Data Replication Tools: They are used to replicate and transfer data from the existing data center to the new location. This can involve data synchronization to ensure that the new data center has an up-to-date copy of all data before the switch-over. These tools include storage migration tools and backup and recovery tools
  3. Monitoring and Testing Tools: These tools monitor the migration process for any issues and test the new environment to ensure that it meets the required performance and security standards. These tools include monitoring and analytics tools, configuration management tools and security and compliance tools
  4. Virtual Environment Migration Tools: VM (Virtual Machine) migration technology allows for the seamless transfer of virtualized environments between servers and storage systems, which is essential for data center migration as it enables the movement of applications and workloads to new hardware or locations with minimal disruption
Mary Zhang covers Data Centers for Dgtl Infra, including Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX), Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR), CyrusOne, CoreSite Realty, QTS Realty, Switch Inc, Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM), Cyxtera (NASDAQ: CYXT), and many more. Within Data Centers, Mary focuses on the sub-sectors of hyperscale, enterprise / colocation, cloud service providers, and edge computing. Mary has over 5 years of experience in research and writing for Data Centers.


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