A rite of passage for the majority of us in the tech consultancy world is being a part of a medium to large scale data migration at some stage in our careers. No, I don’t mean dragging files from a PC to a USB drive, though this may have very well factored into the equation for some us. What I’m referencing is a planned piece of work where the objective is to move an entire data set from a legacy storage system to a target storage. Presumably, a portion of this data is actively used, so this migration usually occurs during a planned downtime period, ad communication strategy, staging, resourcing, etc.
Yes, a lot of us can say ‘been there, done that’. And for some us, it can seem simple when broken down as above. But what does it mean for the end user? The recurring cycle of change is never an easy one, and the impact of a data migration is often a big change. For the team delivering it can be just as stress-inducing – sleepless shift cycles, outside of hours and late-night calls, project scope creeping (note: avoid being vague in work requests, especially when it comes to data migration work), are just a few of the issues that will shave years off anyone who’s unprepared for what a data migration encompasses.
Back to the end-users, it’s a big change: new applications, new front-end interfaces, new operating procedures and a potential shake-up of business processes, and so on. Most opt and agree with the client to taper off the pain of the transition/change period, ‘rip the Band-Aid right off’ and move an entire dataset from one system to another in one operation. Sometimes, and dependent on context/platforms, this is a completely seamless exercise. The end user logs in on a Monday and they’re mostly unaware of a switch. Whether taking this, or a phased approach to the migration, there are signs showing in today’s technology services landscape that these operations are aging and become somewhat outdated.
Data Volumes Are Climbing…
… to put it mildly. We’re in a world of Big Data, and this isn’t only for Global Enterprises and Large Companies, but even mid-sized ones and for some individuals too. Weekend downtimes aren’t going to be enough – or aren’t, as this BA discovered on a recent assignment – and when your data amounts aren’t equitable to the actual end users you’re transitioning (the bigger goal is, in my mind, the transformation of the user experience in fact), then you’re left with finite amounts of time to actually perform tests, gain user acceptance, plan and strategise for mitigation and potential rollback.
Migration through Cloud Platforms are not yet well-optimized for effective (pain-free) Migrations
Imagine you have a billing system that contains somewhere up to 100 million fixed assets (active and backlog). The requirement is to migrate these all to a new system that is more intuitive to the accountants of your business. On top of this, the app has a built-in API that supports 500 asset migrations a second. Not bad, the migration will, therefore, take just under 20 days to complete. Not optimal for a project, no matter how much planning goes into the delivery phase. On top of this, consider the slowing down of performance due to user access going through an API or load gateway. Not fun.
What’s the Alternative?
In a world where we’re looking to make technology and solution delivery faster and more efficient, the future of data migration may, in fact, be headed in the opposite direction.
Rather than phasing your migrations over outage windows of days or weeks, or from weekend-to-weekend, why not stretch this out to months even?
Now, before anyone cries ‘exorbitant bill-ables’, I’m not suggesting that the migration project itself be drawn out for an overly long period of time (months, a year).
No, the idea is not to keep a project team around for unforeseen, yet to-be-expected challenges that face them as previously mentioned above. Rather, as tech and business consultants and experts, a possible alternative is redirecting our efforts towards our quality of service, to focus on change management aspect with regards to end-user adoption of a new platform and associated process, and the capability of a given company’s managed IT serviced too, not only support the change but in fact incorporate the migration into as a standard service offering.
The Bright(er) Future for Data Migrations
How can managed services support a data migration, without specialisation in, say, PowerShell scripting or experience in performing a migration via a tool or otherwise, before? Nowadays we are fortunate enough that vendors are developing migration tools to be highly user-friendly and purposed for ongoing enterprise use. They are doing this to shift the view that a relationship with a solution provider for projects such as this should simply be a one-off, and that the focus on migration software capability is more important than the capability of the resource performing the migration (still important, but ‘technical skills’ in this space becoming more of a level playing field).
From a business consultancy angle, an opportunity to provide an improved quality of service is presented by looking at ways in which we can utilise our engagement and discovery skills to bridge the gaps which can often be prevalent between managed services and an understanding of the businesses everyday processes. A lot of this will hinge on the very data being migrated. This can onset positive action from a business given time and with full support from managed services. Data migrations as a BAU activity can become iterative and via request; active and relevant data first, followed potentially by a ‘house-cleaning’ activity where the business effectively de clutters data which it no longer needs or is no longer relevant.
It’s early days and we’re likely still toeing the line between old data migration methodology and exploring what could be. But ultimately, enabling a client or company to be more technologically capable, starting with data migrations, is definitely worth a cent or two.