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How to choose the right strategy for a data migration

Anyone who has moved a household knows that without preparation, it can be a chaotic experience. There are different considerations when moving regarding what to keep, how to pack various possessions, how to prioritise what to move, and how to protect valuables.

A good moving company understands that the move itself isn't the most important part of the operation. The company is judged by how efficiently every possession arrives at its destination.

Moving can be a useful metaphor to understand data migration, as not every data migration is the same. However, every migration requires careful strategy, thoughtful planning, a detailed migration checklist, and communication throughout. This article explores the reasons that companies undertake a migration, how companies prepare for the move, and look at three common migration strategies.

Reasons to migrate data

Companies have various reasons for migrating data, which may require different migration strategies. Common reasons for a migration include:

Moving to the cloud – Cloud adoption has risen over the last decade, and cloud migrations have accelerated in the past year, in large part because of the need to support secure remote work during the pandemic.

Mergers and acquisitions – M-A activity has accelerated, with high-stakes migrations usually capping off a fairly intense IT project as merging companies consolidate data. These migrations need to be planned carefully to assure a positive experience as the companies combine.

Consolidating or decoupling systems – As organisations evolve, they may find it necessary to combine or segregate data for IT management purposes. This could be based on region or subsidiary, for example.

Moving to a new platform – Many companies adopting Microsoft Teams have resulted in migrations to take advantage of Teams' robust collaboration offerings.

Saving money – As IT organisations look for ways to contribute to the bottom line, many find opportunities to lower expenses by shifting to new platforms.

Improving security – This year's news about bad actors exploiting on-premises Exchange vulnerabilities has renewed the urgency to migrate from on-prem to more secure cloud environments such as Exchange Online.

In each scenario, organisations must consider data-handling strategies to inform the ideal migration options they should pursue.

Preparing data for the move

The concept of performing a data migration may seem basic: Gather everything from point A and move it to point B. But this is like calling a moving company, opening the door to your house, and telling them to move everything. The moving company will move everything, including the contents of wastepaper baskets.

Instances where an organisation wants to move everything is a lift-and-shift migration, where data is moved with little or no changes. This kind of migration may be the only viable strategy when there's limited time or when the workload is relatively small. But it can create complications on the backend.

And, just as a moving company will charge for the weight and volume of all items packed in their truck, a lift-and-shift migration may bring unnecessary costs regarding unneeded data.

Let's return to the household that needs to be moved. With some time and planning, the family can determine what they need and eliminate what they don't. They can plan a yard sale, make donations, and take trips to the dump.

When everything arrives in their new home, unpacking is easier, and they don't have to find storage space for things they don't need.

In data migration terms, this is a clean-and-shift migration strategy. It has long been considered best practice because it results in a cleaner, more efficient migration and potentially lower data storage costs. It also leads to a more organised environment that lets users be more productive because they have better access to their data.

Automated solutions can help improve migration planning. IT teams are starting to use Voleer assessments in the planning phases of a migration, allowing them to identify content that can be archived or purged. This content is sometimes called ROT, short for redundant, obsolete, or trivial content.

Once ROT content is identified, IT can work with application or database owners to dispose of it. In some cases, ROT can be a liability if the company is storing compliance documents for longer than required by law.

Migration strategies to consider

In planning a migration and deciding which workloads to move, there are different strategies to consider. These common strategies entail different migration workflows:

Single-pass migration

This involves moving everything at once, usually over a weekend. Keep in mind that a single-pass migration doesn't mean everything moves. In fact, a well-organised clean-up before migration will streamline the project.

The benefits of a single-pass strategy are its cost-effectiveness and simplicity. Potential drawbacks include the inability to test workloads before cutover and the possibility that not all data will be available when work resumes. This strategy is not recommended for large or complex migrations.

Pre-stage migration

This is a multi-pass migration strategy in which most data is moved before cutover. Often, older items and archives are moved in advance of a cutover weekend when more recent data is then brought over. This lets users be productive immediately when they return to work.

Pre-stage migrations are recommended for larger and more complex projects, and they require planning to assure success.

Quick-switch migration

With the quick-switch strategy, recent data is moved first, and archives follow later. This is a way to speed a migration and get users onto their new system quickly with their most important data. When executing a quick switch, it's important to remind users that not all their data will be available at cutover time.

There's a lot to think about when the need arises to execute a migration. In fact, the migration itself often comes at the tail end of the strategy, pre-work, and preparation stages. However, two ingredients are critical to any successful migration: planning and communications.

Careful planning makes a difference in multiple ways. It helps increase efficiency and decrease the risk of failure. Even a partial failure will affect end-users who rely on access to systems and data for productivity.

Effective planning can also help to reduce costs and optimise data storage. It will also save time on backend clean-up.

Communication throughout a migration project is equally important. Maintaining open connections across the project team regarding the movement of data and applications will enable owners to make sure nothing is missed.

Also, make sure users understand their roles and know what to expect before, during, and after the migration. When all goes well behind the scenes, it may look like nothing significant is happening – and that's the way it should be.


Technology is available that helps to streamline migration projects. Look for solutions that assure a faster, more streamlined migration capable of making an entire project a success. Also, choose a vendor with an extensive knowledge base that includes detailed guides, videos and webinars.

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