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The Data Migration Epiphany: Solutions Vs. Software

When you work in IT, you’re constantly managing expectations. People complain over almost any amount of downtime.

But data migrations and system upgrades usually require at least a little bit of downtime, which is why 81 percent of companies schedule them overnight or on a weekend, according to Vision Solutions’
“2013 State of Resilience Report.” The fewer people who are working, the fewer who will be disrupted by the migration.

Once you have a data migration epiphany, however, you can say goodbye to those late-night IT coffee runs.

I had my own data migration epiphany in the lead up to Y2K. Remember the fears that IT across the world would stop dead in its tracks at midnight as we rolled over to the new millennium? I was responsible for helping my company figure out how to move and fix all of our systems and data without interrupting business.

We expected it would take three months to finish the migration, until we looked to a partner who could help us build tools and craft a methodology that would accomplish the task more efficiently and with a smaller impact on operations.

As a result, we fast-tracked the migration into just two weeks while upping accuracy by 3,000 percent, all at a lower cost. Mission critical systems were moved and upgraded while machines stayed up and running, 24 hours a day.

Data migration with near-zero downtime is now a reality. It all comes down to seeking solutions vs. software.

The Power of Integration

There are huge strategic business benefits to uniting the power of technology, methodology and services as an integrated solution. Software is an element, of course, but it’s part of a larger whole that lets your systems keep humming, all while your data moves to a more strategic environment.

Software is a program that is designed to solve one problem. A solution is an answer to a business opportunity that also includes changes to process, staff roles and programs that result in organizational improvements leading to lasting change and growth. 

A large public entity, for example, had to quickly consolidate and virtualize about 1,000 active computer systems distributed across a large territory to a centralized location. Significant downtime simply wasn’t on option due to the critical nature of the entity’s work. The process also had to maintain the highest level of security.

The entity worked with a partner that conducted a proof of concept to ensure the process (including the software) would work as planned and confirm what steps needed to take place post-migration for a smooth transition. The partner trained additional contractors to aid in the migration so no internal staff needed to work on the project.

As a result, the migration happened with near-zero downtime so essential operations continued functioning normally — in fact, most units had no idea the migration had even taken place. The solution had been tested and proven prior to the migration, allowing the project to be completed accurately and efficiently, several months ahead of schedule. The entity realized a huge ROI by centralizing its systems while also being able to more securely protect sensitive data.

Nothing assures business continuity better than a solution that combines advance planning, software integration, a solid partnership with staff and an outline for sustained success after the migration.

Keeping Business Running

Despite the possibilities, more than half of IT leaders said they experience anywhere from one to 12 hours of downtime with migrations, according to the Vision Solutions survey. Almost two-thirds delay migrations due to their downtime concerns.

User expectations today are even higher than they were back when I was getting ready for Y2K. They see downtime as IT’s issue, not their issue. While most people will tolerate brief bursts of downtime, anything more than that breeds serious discontent.

Say you’re a retailer with a successful online business. If your site goes down for maintenance in the middle of the day, people aren’t going to wait for you to finish the migration. They’ll type what they’re looking for into a search engine and find four other sites selling the same product. They may even be willing to pay more for it, just for the convenience of buying it immediately.

Real-time, byte-level replication conducted within a carefully outlined plan allows you to migrate data while still running your business with near-zero downtime. The streamlined approach takes constant snapshots of just the most recent data, so you don’t have to capture all the information with every new copy.

It also makes sure your company captures every fragment of data — nothing will get lost in translation as you move to a new platform or environment. And, on top of allowing the migration to happen in the background, real-time replication speeds up the whole process so you don’t have to devote as much time or as many people to overseeing it.

Inserting a software solution such as real-time replication into a solid methodology (including testing) will enable you to optimize your migration strategy. Following a repeatable, predictable process allows migrations to also be repeatable and predictable, regardless of what platform or environment you’re migrating between. It minimizes the risk of mistakes while also making your life easier.

Protecting Your Reputation

The IRS hearings that were recently on the forefront of national news are a perfect example of what happens when you don’t ensure availability of your systems. The agency was forced to testify before congressional committees in June that it lost reams of emails from 2009-2011 connected to accusations that it targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

While the IRS claimed it lost the emails when a computer crashed, the lessons are the same for anyone who’s used to experiencing downtime during a migration. When you make sure that data stays highly available, that it’s backed up in the midst of a migration, you won’t lose a single email, transaction or other bit of data — and you stay off the front page of the newspaper.

Every organization has so much data these days. If you look at some countries, there are actually more smart devices being sold than there are people. Each one of those devices is interacting with companies, accessing and sending data across social media, applications and email. Companies just can’t afford to let their systems go down. If people can’t communicate with them, they can’t buy things. If they can’t buy them one place, they’ll go somewhere else.

It’s critical to support the servers that back your business with a solid migration strategy anytime you make an upgrade or move to a new environment. And with many businesses, migrations are a daily fact of life — literally.

I recently spoke with a CIO who said he has 100 migration projects going on every single day. Migration support has become a business unit within his IT department because there are so many happening—and they have to be done quickly, without any business disruptions.

A solution-based approach to migration is the key to uninterrupted business. Identify a realistic timeline, engage the right software, outline a testing methodology, and you’ll experience a migration epiphany of your own.  

Alan Arnold is executive VP and chief technology officer of Vision Solutions.