Is Lift-and-Shift a Valid Option for Cloud Migration?

There are a few valid cases for doing a “lift and shift” cloud migration, but it should always be challenged, especially when it is used as a stepping stone in your long-term strategy. Legitimate time, technology, or capacity constraints within existing data centers are valid reasons to begin with a “lift and shift” migration. If there is true necessity for an organization to meet a certain deadline for moving all assets to a cloud environment, then the “lift and shift” shines due to its advantage of speedy migration. However, this is never the final step, and should quickly be followed by re-platforming and refactoring efforts. 

Ask the Right Questions 

1. Efficiency  

  • Is this actually saving me money? 
  • Am I getting the benefits of elasticity? 
  • Will I see performance gains? 

There must be a very compelling reason to move quickly to the cloud if you are not seeing improved efficiency across the board. You should save money, scale on demand, and exceed prior performance benchmarks. It should also minimize operational overhead and help streamline processes within your IT organization. Usually, a lift-and-shift does not solve these problems on its own.  

2. Automation 

  • Will this improve my ability to deliver business value more quickly? 
  • Will I be able to easily provision new resources? 
  • Is automation an integral part of my strategy? 

A huge advantage of cloud computing, especially in the public cloud space, is the APIs that enable programmable infrastructure and configuration. Cloud migration should have a large focus on improving the overall continuous integration and delivery of code and resources. By doing a lift-and-shift migration, you’re likely missing the benefits of business agility and time-to-market. 

3. Architecture  

  • Is it easy to scale up and out? 
  • Is the environment fault tolerant? 
  • Where are you introducing latency? 

Obviously, a lift-and-shift does not involve rearchitecting your systems, but to truly take advantage of your cloud environment, you need to understand how your systems integrate, scale, and handle failure. While redundancy is built into many cloud services, the way your applications and data behave is on you.  

4. Governance 

  • Do you have control over access to cloud resources? 
  • Is the environment more secure than on-prem? 
  • Is policy enforcement automated, or can it be automated? 

The way you access and control the environment surrounding the infrastructure will change, especially in a public cloud environment. Cloud providers give you the tools to implement very granular access controls and policies, but they must be defined and enforced from the very beginning. Any oversight along the way in a lift-and-shift migration can open “back doors” or vulnerabilities, creating huge potential risk for your company. 

5. Training / Team

  • Is my team capable of supporting the new environment? 
  • Will I still need the same size team to manage the infrastructure? 
  • Do I need to restructure/reorg to support the new environment? 

Your migration plan must include the resources to support the new environment. A lift-and-shift migration can move you to the cloud quickly, but your team may not be prepared.  

Challenge the Strategy 

Most companies consult external vendors to help plan their migration strategy to the cloud. More often than not, these vendors are a “gold partner” or “advanced partner” of the chosen cloud platform, which is beneficial because they have the expertise to assist. There are a few things to take into consideration, though. The first consideration is that to maintain partnerships, companies often need to meet monthly recurring revenue targets for the given cloud provider, meaning there is incentive to use the fastest migration path. Also, boilerplate migration plans are often used that are at risk of not being customized appropriately to your organization, which could have several repercussions. Lastly, the focus is usually on a single cloud platform, and certain decisions may deepen your dependency on said platform. This is not to say that vendor partners are out to get you, but they certainly could be partial. At UDig, we take a vendor-agnostic approach intentionally, because the right solution for your company shouldn’t have a tinge of bias.  

An Alternative Approach 

A lift-and-shift migration should not be oversold as a logical step in the migration process. It can introduce additional costs and challenges, which are usually underestimated. You’ve likely heard something like “The cloud is just someone else’s servers”, which I believe is the biggest understatement of the decade. This can be true in the case of a lift-and-shift but couldn’t be further from true for the right cloud implementation. There is a plethora of cloud tools and services that minimize effort and give you extensive benefits beyond an on-prem environment.  

Ideally, a cloud migration should be an agile process. Prioritize your workloads, assess the migration path for each, and implement a cloud solution that moves the needle. As with most projects, an iterative approach with bite-sized chunks reduces risk, surfaces opportunities, and ultimately creates the best outcome.