Follow the golden rules

Tony Sceales, Celona Technologies and John Morris, iergo
16 Apr 2008

When you can no longer avoid migrating your business-critical data, keep in mind four simple rules that will make your life easier

Follow the golden rules

Not all migrations are equal. Many migrations are fairly straightforward and motivated purely by technical or IT drivers. For example, at the storage level, companies may need to migrate their data to cheaper forms of storage. At the database level, they may need to mirror data to another disk. At the application level, however, data migration can be very complex in large enterprises because it needs to span both technical and business issues.

According to Bloor's Phil Howard, Forbes 2,000 companies already spend at least $5 billion a year on migrations, and yet 80% of them still go over time or over budget.

To understand why this is the case, it is important to recognize how complex IT infrastructures have arisen. Often they mirror an enterprise's history and have come about as the result of mergers and acquisitions, organic growth, product launches and new initiatives compounded over many years. While individual parts of the infrastructure may be well architected, robust and functional, the overall structure may be poorly understood and far from optimal.

Rule One: Data migration is a business not a technical issue

Historically, migration has been viewed as a purely technical issue and the most pressing concern has been how to migrate data. But since IT doesn't necessarily "own" either the source and target applications or the data that the business uses to function, it doesn't have the power or the necessary knowledge to deliver what is required by the business.

Further, an increasing feature of the modern IT environment is that IT has come out of the data center and is no longer controlled by the IT department in the way that it may have been previously. Involving business managers in data migration projects is, therefore, essential. One of the most common characteristics of a successful migration is that they are business- rather than technology-led.

Ensuring the business makes the decisions and drives the project also frees IT up to do what it is best at, which is the technical aspects of moving the data.

This suggests any technical solution to the migration must provide the business with clear visibility and control over the way the program is progressing.

Rule Two: The business knows best

The business drivers, not technical ones, should take precedence. It is critically important that business goals should define the solution and approach selected, and not the other way around. The best technical solution is not always the best business solution. To be successful, the chief business stakeholders must define their requirements and take responsibility for driving the project.

The business is also better placed to prioritize the migration, deciding which data to migrate first. By allowing the business to drive the migration, an enterprise has a better chance of delivering the right solution for its needs and maximizing the ROI on its investment.

However, IT must be aware that the business will not be able to predict at the outset what issues will surface during the migration.

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