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Cloud Migration 101: The Complete Guide To Migrating To The Cloud

How do you migrate to the cloud, how long does it take, and what cloud migration tools to use? Here is your in-depth guide.

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Cloud migration is the new gold rush.

A 2020 survey involving 1,283 IT professionals from different companies had some interesting insight. It showed 88% of organizations already use the cloud for some data and applications. A further 80% said they will have moved to the cloud, co-location, and hosting services by 2025. 

While 87% said the pandemic fast-tracked their cloud migration strategies, accelerated migration to the cloud was already happening several years prior. 

As many companies have realized, moving to the cloud can offer numerous benefits. However, it can also have a number of challenges that make it difficult to successfully migrate. What are those benefits, what are the challenges, and how can you complete a successful migration for your organization?

This guide will cover all of these questions in-detail, including what exactly cloud migration is, the advantages and disadvantages, migration strategies, steps, tools that’ll help you be successful, and more.

Table of Contents

What Is Cloud Migration?

Migration to the cloud involves transferring all or part of an IT infrastructure from on-premise to cloud environments. An IT infrastructure typically involves components such as company applications, databases, servers, and networking equipment. 

On-premises components include any hardware or software you have running in a physical building, especially in the same place your employees work.

When moving to the cloud, you choose to switch from using an on-premises framework to a cloud-based alternative. 

Cloud migration lets you use a cloud provider’s infrastructure to reduce IT costs, scale faster, make your services available anywhere, and deliver better customer experiences — more on the benefits of migrating to the cloud later.

What are the three types of cloud migrations? 

Moving to the cloud often involves transferring data from on-site infrastructure to cloud infrastructure

The typical scenario is where you’ll be transferring the data from a legacy system to the cloud. 

A legacy system is an IT infrastructure that includes outdated or non-optimal components for the specific work it does. Think of IT infrastructure that includes slow servers, aging networking equipment, obsolete databases, and applications that no longer receive security patches from their vendors.    

Second, you can also complete a cloud migration by switching from one cloud computing provider to another. 

The migration approach is called a cloud-to-cloud migration

For example, you can switch from Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to either Microsoft Azure Cloud Services or Amazon Web Services (AWS), and vice versa. 

Third, reverse cloud migration involves transferring applications and data from the cloud to an on-site architecture. 

Declouding, unclouding, or cloud repatriation are other names for it.

Benefits Of Migrating To The Cloud

Gartner predicts the global public cloud services market will grow by $88.2 billion from 2020 through 2022.

Cloud Service Revenue Forecast

In 2020, in the murk of the pandemic, spending on public cloud adoption still dominated IT spend, according to a Deloitte finding. So, why are organizations moving to the cloud at such a rate?  

The cloud migration process is worth it in several powerful ways. Here are some solid reasons for starting your journey to the cloud.

Application modernization

Moving services to the cloud requires that you make your infrastructure components cloud-compliant. There are a dozen cloud computing standards you’ll want to meet to make computing on the cloud secure and seamless for your organization.

The payoff is it can help make your digital transformation seamless and users happy. 

Working with modern data systems also almost always boosts cloud-based applications’ performance. 

Cost benefits 

Buying, running, and maintaining on-premises hardware and software can be a costly affair. 

The cloud provider handles most of the maintenance work on the cloud, including server performance, platform updates, and other host management tasks. 

There is minimal equipment to buy, run, or maintain on a cloud platform. Cloud computing services also come at competitive prices, which translates to more IT cost savings for you. 

Moving to the clouds sets your team free to complete critical tasks

On-premises systems require constant care, demanding a lot of your team’s time and effort. That leads to substantial opportunity costs.

Cloud migration takes the burden off your teams and into the hands of equally or more capable cloud providers hands. 

Meet customer expectations

The modern customer wants to access services from anywhere, anytime, and without delays. 

But the further away they are from your on-premises databases and servers, the more likely they are to experience latency. 

A move to the cloud reduces lag issues by helping customers in multiple locations access seamless services via the nearest data centers.  

That can boost customer experiences and help you expand your services to international markets. That is also glorious news if you want to edge out your competitors in entering a new market. 

Enhance scalability 

In a world where viral campaigns can turn your business tides in hours. Using cloud services can prepare your IT infrastructure to take advantage of server request spikes, such as increased online traffic, without deteriorating performance. 

Improve flexibility

Expanding or down-scaling resources is so much easier in the cloud. For example, there are no severe cost-ramifications such as buying new equipment to grow or wondering what to do with no-longer-used infrastructure components when you scale down operations.   

Support remote teams

Cloud migration is helping organizations shift to a hybrid workplace that supports real-time collaborations. This means you can hire international talent or help dispersed teams work together hassle-free.

Take advantage of continuous deployment strategies 

If you are a startup, the cloud presents a robust system for launching a bare-bones product. Then you can use continuous integration strategies to add extra features and patch security concerns on the go. 

For larger SMBs and enterprises, migration to the cloud means system updates take minimal time to avoid major disruptions, as one example.  

Lead your competitors  

Combining these benefits means you can reap cost, personnel, and customer satisfaction advantages over competitors. That can translate to increases in new and long-term business for you. 

How do you migrate to the cloud to enjoy those benefits?

You probably already enjoy some advantages of cloud computing. 

But what if you want to go all-in, as we see many companies do, in the wake of the new normal?  

You’ll want to start by preparing a cloud migration strategy. It is not as complicated as it may sound when you know what to do.

What Is A Cloud Migration Strategy?

A cloud migration strategy is a unique plan that an organization creates to help transition its on-prem data and applications to the cloud successfully. 

Cloud migration requires significant preparation. 

A good cloud migration strategy will always consider the most efficient way to move to the cloud, for example. Cloud migration success involves weighing the benefits, challenges, and suitability of specific aspects of the cloud migration process. 

Here is a breakdown of the two aspects crucial for implementing a cloud migration strategy.

What Cloud Migration Strategies Exist?

First, consider the cloud deployment model and provider’s platform that are suitable for your business use cases. 

Cloud deployment models refer to the four types of cloud computing, namely private clouds, public clouds, and hybrid clouds. 

There is also a multi-service approach to consider, where you can use two or more providers to leverage different best-in-breed services.  

Provider’s platforms refer to the three types of cloud computing services; IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS. Different cloud service models will have unique advantages and disadvantages, depending on your organization’s needs. 

So, what cloud migration strategy is right for your organization?

6Rs of Cloud Migration Diagram

Consider the 6Rs of migrating to the cloud. 

  • Rehosting 
  • Re-platforming
  • Repurchasing
  • Refactoring
  • Retiring
  • Retaining

Here is a quick summary of each migration approach.

1. Rehosting

The rehosting approach involves transferring on-premise data and applications to a cloud environment without changing underlying code much. It is the simplest, most cost-effective, and least time-consuming cloud migration strategy.

Rehosting is popular because it takes what a company does daily and replicates it in the cloud. That translates to less steep learning curves, fewer disruptions. 

Moderate, data-heavy or organizations that still need their legacy systems can also use the “lift and shift” strategy to test the cloud environment’s suitability to their business operations.

Companies that wish to recreate their existing framework in a cloud environment will want to use an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider. 

2. Re-platforming

Re-platforming involves making moderate changes to your applications’ code to become compatible with and function in a cloud environment. 

The application remains mainly unchanged to reduce disruptions and costs, but benefits from improved performance. For example, you can introduce auto-scaling, a cloud-native service. 

The “move and improve” approach is ideal for organizations that want to modernize their legacy applications to boost service delivery. 

If you have a custom-developed app that is barely a decade old, you can re-platform it. 

3. Repurchasing or Replacing

Replacing involves moving applications and data to a ready-made, cloud-native product. It comprises shelling company applications and adopting a third-party’s Software-as-a-Software (SaaS) platform. 

Replacing makes sense when you want to adopt new cloud computing benefits without doing all the work of building and maintaining one yourself. 

It is also ideal for migrating applications and data that proves challenging to rehost or re-platform.     

4. Refactoring or Re-architecting 

Refactoring involves rewriting an application from scratch to conform to new cloud computing standards, features, and use cases on a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) platform. 

Re-architecting your application’s components means you can upgrade them to become cloud-native products. 

Rebuilding an application from the ground up may be the most time-consuming and investment-heavy approach.

But it is also the most robust and future-proof route to making your application take full advantage of the latest cloud computing benefits, including serverless computing and native-level automation.   

5. Retaining 

Some things will never change. 

You may be unable to move some applications or data because of a host of reasons such as security and compliance concerns. Or moving to the cloud may not make sense in some specific operations. 

In either case, you can keep an on-site operation going until it makes business sense to move to the cloud.

6. Retiring 

It also makes sense to switch off any applications that no longer serve their purpose. Thoroughly assess your stack. You may discover redundancies you will no longer use in the following environment. 

Rip them out to release resources for your other business-critical applications and components.  

Those are the various cloud migration strategies you can use. Now, how do you do an actual cloud migration?

How To Migrate To The Cloud (Step-By-Step)

The step-by-step process of a cloud migration involves planning, choosing a suitable cloud environment, migrating data and apps, and evaluating cloud migration success. 

The exact steps may vary, depending on the cloud provider you choose. 

For example, the GCP has its four-step migration, which differs in speed, ease, and security from migrating to AWS.   

AWS Application Migration Process

Credit: AWS application migration process

How does migrating to the cloud work step-by-step?

Step 1: Plan a migration to the cloud

The first thing to do is evaluate what business value you would gain from moving to the cloud. 

  • Is your organization bleeding money by retaining an on-site database?
  • Do you need cloud-native features such as auto-scaling to keep your customers?
  • Are you ready to retrain staff or hire new specialists to handle the latest technology?

Perhaps you want to modernize your application to have a global reach or outsource server management tasks. It could be you want to shift to a variable load platform instead of a platform that allocates fixed resources.    

On-site to cloud moves are sizable investments. So you’ll want to undertake them where it makes ROI sense now or in the foreseeable future.

If creating a cloud migration strategy feels daunting, it makes sense to reach out to an experienced cloud partner for help and to make sure you have the right tools in place that will allow you to monitor costs during a migration.

Take CloudZero, for example. Our cloud cost intelligence platform connects your architecture and AWS costs — so you know exactly how much every aspect of your products cost to run. Additionally, CloudZero delivers automatic anomaly alerts and updates to engineering teams in Slack, so they'll know immediately if a change they made had unintended consequences — so you can adopt and experiment away.

Step 2: Choose the best cloud environment for your needs

You will want to talk to your engineering teams to decide your cloud application’s look, function, and feel. 

As mentioned earlier, rehosting works well on an IaaS cloud service. Refactoring will roll out as well on a PaaS service while a SaaS provider supports a replacing strategy.

Once you review the advantages and disadvantages of public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds, or using multi-clouds (or even multi-service), you can pick the most suitable option for your specific needs as well. 

Step 3: Migrate data from a local data center to the cloud

Start by deploying a cloud firewall to prevent data leaks during the process. You will also want to back up the data in case you need to recover it. 

Next, transfer your data over to your cloud provider of choice. Uploading data to the cloud happens through an internet connection. 

If you have data-heavy applications, ask your cloud provider if they do on-site data transfers, physically ship the data to their centers, and upload it more quickly than you otherwise would over an internet plan.

Your cloud goes live when you switch production from on-site to the cloud. Successful cloud migration is underway. 

Step 4: Assess your cloud migration    

Once you have transferred your applications and data to the new environment, it is time to evaluate the migration against your initial KPIs. 

  • Does the application work optimally in the cloud?
  • Do you need to modernize applications or components to achieve better performance?
  • Have you maintained data security and compliance standards along the way?

Consider benchmarking the new infrastructure choice to the old before you decommission on-site or legacy applications. That may mean running two environments for a while. But it can help you measure whether you are attaining the cloud computing benefits you set out to accomplish in the beginning.

Only decommission legacy systems once your cloud migration specialists give the go-ahead. From there, keep modernizing your cloud environment to improve performance, optimize cloud costs, and ROI.

How Long Does Cloud Migration Take?

Medium projects that involve migrating email and document management can take 2-4 months. Projects that involve sophisticated server setups and configuring cloud-native services can take 6-24 months and beyond.

  How long it takes to move to the cloud varies from one company to another. For example, a migration timeline will include planning the migration, training staff, and refactoring applications to enable deep cloud integration.

However, situations may require that you move quickly to migrate part or all of your data and applications to the cloud. For example, 87% of companies said the pandemic made them speed up their cloud migration process in 2020/2021 to support remote working, online transactions, and online data storage.   

The Challenges Of Cloud Migration

Setting a realistic migration timeline is not the only challenge organizations face. In 2017, some 208 IT professionals from different industries and company sizes told Dimensional Research that migrating to the cloud took longer than expected. 

Some 57% of the respondents foresaw the migration process lasting longer than they initially projected.

  • 73% said the process would take between one and two years to complete
  • 55% of all their cloud projects experienced budget overruns
  • 70% wanted a multi-cloud provider to leverage different services’ features (77%) and to avoid vendor lock-in (58%)

A whopping 62% said their first attempt at moving to the cloud either “failed outright” or was “more difficult than expected”. 

Why do cloud migrations fail?

A Forrester report shows many companies take so long, overshoot budgets, or fail outright because they are not sure how to comply with data quality, costs, security, privacy, compatibility, scalability, and multi-cloud standards during a transfer. 

In 2020, O’Reilly showed a lack of adequate know-how to migrate applications in phases, reduce cloud migration costs, and pick the right balance of current and future cloud needs to optimize ROI also contributes to failure.

Cloud Computing Survey

McAfee also found that 49% of organizations delayed migration to the cloud because they felt they lacked the skills to ensure cloud security. 

You do not want to leave your cloud migration to chance, despite the challenges involved. One way to ensure migration success is to use the right tools for the job. 

Cloud Migration Tools And Software

There are several tools you can use to help you move to the cloud hassle-free.

1. CloudZero


CloudZero helps engineering teams move to the cloud with confidence by providing powerful cloud cost intelligence. Using machine learning, CloudZero automatically maps cloud costs to features, products, teams, and more. With this information in hand, you can identify your most expensive customers, see how service costs translate to features in your business, and make informed engineering and product decisions with costs in mind.

Additionally, automatic cost anomaly alerts keep your engineering teams informed if there’s ever a cost fluctuation that needs to be addressed immediately, which can be vital during a migration.

2. AWS Cloud Migration Services

Migrate With AWS

The leading public cloud provider offers several unique, robust, and secure cloud migration tools. They include AWS data migration service, AWS server migration service, AWS snowmobile, and AWS migration hub.

3. Alooma


Alooma is a cloud-based data migration solution for enterprises. It makes bringing data from different data silos into BigQuery hassle-free, allowing teams better visibility and control in real-time.   

4. Azure Migration Tools


Microsoft’s cloud migration services include tools to help teams migrate workloads to the cloud fast and secure. Aure free tools include app modernization, app dependency, and Azure readiness analyzes at no additional cost.   

5. Fivetran


Fivetran is a cloud-based tool for replicating production databases to centralize app data and make building data products seamless. It ensures the data is up-to-date and accurate by managing the entire data transfer pipeline.   

6. Carbonite Migrate


Carbonite Migrate makes moving cloud, physical or virtual data to any environment quick and secure. It also minimizes disruptions while your team tests the new environment as many times as they need. It is ideal for companies looking to use migration automation reliably. 

Migrate To The Cloud With Cost Confidence

Migrating your applications and data to the cloud has many powerful benefits. A highlight of cloud migration advantages include increased cost savings and scalability benefits over time. 

However, you need to know what you are doing from the beginning. Otherwise, you may overshoot your budget, delay deployment, or fail outright.    

CloudZero helps companies during a migration by providing detailed cloud cost intelligence that helps you map and understand your cloud costs. With CloudZero, you can see exactly how much specific AWS services drive your features and costs, as well as receive cost anomaly alerts to keep your cloud spend from spiraling out of control.

Request a demo today to see how CloudZero can help you migrate to AWS with cost confidence.


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