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Pros & Cons of the Lift and Shift Cloud Migration Model

Author: Pavan Konduru | | January 28, 2020

Many organizations are convinced a cloud migration can lead to benefits of cost savings and flexibility. While cloud benefits are clear, the best model for migration can be less obvious. A “lift and shift” strategy may seem like a fast way to drop existing infrastructure on the cloud, but it’s not always the optimal way to migrate workloads.

What is Lift and Shift, and What are the Alternatives?

A lift and shift cloud migration model involves moving apps and operations to the cloud without redesigning or changing the workload first. Lift and shift was a popular strategy for the earliest cloud migration case studies. However, it’s not always the smartest choice.

Sometimes an alternative is the most effective strategy. There are at least five different strategies for cloud migration:

1. Pure Lift-and-Shift — Migrating a workload with no refactoring or rebuilding. Sometimes called “rehosting.”

2. Lift, Shift & Optimize — A migration which involves minimal efforts to optimize a workload, generally post-migration.

3. Refactoring — Significant changes to configurations or code during cloud migration to impact performance or behavior.

4. Containerization — Bundling individual app components, such as libraries and dependencies, into containers separate from the infrastructure to promote flexible migrations between premise and cloud environments.

5. Rebuild — Completing redesigning a cloud-native application.
Organizations ultimately need to determine if a workload needs revisions, and whether any optimization efforts should be done before or after cloud migration. Sometimes, refactoring or optimization efforts before migration aren’t possible, especially if it’s risky or cost-prohibitive to scale workloads without cloud resources. Lift and shift can be beneficial for some organizations. GE Oil & Gas achieved 52% cheaper IT costs when they lifted and shifted 500 apps to the AWS Cloud.

The best strategy for a cloud migration varies by company, and more importantly, workload. Before you dismiss Lift-and-Shift as an outdated technique for cloud transformation, take time to look at the pros and cons.

5 Pros of Lift and Shift Cloud Migration

1. Speed
Lift and shift is the single fastest way to get a workload on public cloud resources since you don’t dedicate time to optimization or code revisions.

2. Cost Savings
Lift-and-shift is the cheapest migration model if you’re only considering pure migration costs, since you aren’t paying for code or configuration changes. However, these upfront savings could cost more in the long-term if you miss opportunities to optimize workload costs.

3. Minimal Planning
Any cloud migration requires planning, however, a lift-and-shift approach requires the least amount of project strategy and resources.

4. Reduced Risk
In some select situations, lift-and-shift is less risky than refactoring an app, especially if you don’t have the premises-based resources to perform code updates without compromising performance.

5. Easier Optimization
Sometimes, optimization is just too costly with existing resources. Lift-and-shift can allow companies to prolong the lifespan of a struggling workload, especially when it’s too costly for premises-based infrastructure or you need cloud resources to optimize it down-the-road.

5 Cons of a Lift and Shift Migration Model

1. Poor Cost Optimization
Optimizing code, configurations or refactoring is an opportunity to maximize long-term cloud cost savings by creating a more stable cloud workload.

2. Little Visibility
The cloud can be a path to a single-pane-of-glass view of infrastructure, especially if you use migration as an opportunity to understand existing applications and data. Lifting-and-shifting a workload without a full assessment can make visibility issues worse and may cause cloud troubleshooting challenges.

3. Missed Opportunities
Refactoring is sometimes necessary to achieve cloud benefits such as automated performance management and stability.

4. Copy-and-Paste Confusion
Confusing a lift-and-shift migration model with a copy-and-paste strategy is a disaster recipe for companies who put no effort towards planning or migration testing before trying to go live.

5. Optimization Problems
The cloud can simplify or complicate optimization problems. Sometimes, it’s much harder to optimize a legacy workload without native environment resources.

Lift and Shift Use Cases

There are good and bad reasons to choose a lift and shift migration. Some of the worst reasons to lift and shift include:

1. Lack of Resources
2. Fear of Change
3. Outdated Processes

Speeding to copy-and-paste a workload to cloud servers is a major risk. The best-case scenario of a lift and shift migration that’s done for the wrong reasons is poor cost optimization. Since cloud services are generally billed based on usage, sometimes apps need to be refactored in order to avoid wasting money on unused services.

There’s only one good reason to choose lift-and-shift instead of alternative cloud migration models— if lift-and-shift is the best solution for a workload. There’s a serious business case for lift-and-shift in select instances, including:

1. Avoiding expensive investments in hardware
2. Migrating virtual machines
3. Performance issues causes by technical debt
4. Serious disaster recovery risks
5. Instability in mission-critical workloads
6. Optimization is costly or impossible on-premises

Datavail Use Case

A client had 150 servers (VMS) which included numerous database, application and web servers. The client requested a lift and shift migration. Datavail then conducted an evaluation of the monthly spend this method would require. This resulted in the client requesting alternative migration methods be explored.

As a result, Datavail reviewed server usage charts and rebuilt the total cost of ownership (TCO) with the capacity utilized and reduced their cost by a minimum of 35%.

To evaluate the idea of the lift and shift method, companies are best positioned to engage organizatons who are AWS Certified Partners. They know the best methodologies to study the Source On-prem Datacenter either by installing the tools like TSO Logic or by analyzing the past metrics of each individual servers. This helps design the best infrastructure to save costs and perform the migration efficiently.

Is Lift and Shift the Right Migration Model?

A lift and shift is sometimes the best migration model, but the right cloud transformation strategy varies by company, workload, and use case. The best way to achieve cloud benefits and cost savings is to use the fastest and cheapest cloud strategy that doesn’t compromise performance or possibilities long-term. Sometimes, it makes more sense to refactor an app before migration, and sometimes post-migration optimization is smarter. A copy-and-paste approach to the cloud is risky, especially if you don’t fully understand what you’re migrating.

Study your on-premises data center before you select a cloud strategy. Past server metrics and insights into data and apps can reveal a better understanding of your current infrastructure and the right path to the cloud. Real data and a full risk-benefit analysis is the only way to avoid the risks of the wrong cloud strategy.

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