Goodbye to All That: How to Phase Out Your Data Center

Many organizations are considering reducing their involvement in the data center business and moving some or all of their computing environment to the cloud or a colocation facility. A successful migration is within the reach of any organization that follows a few straightforward guidelines. 

Choosing to Phase Out Your Data Center 

With the maturation of cloud computing and the colocation industry, many organizations that operate their own data centers have concluded there are economic and/or security benefits to moving part or all of their data operations to the cloud or a colo facility—and gradually phasing out their own DCs. 

Looked at from the business continuity point of view, such transitions often make very good sense. They don’t have to result in any weakening of the organization’s IT disaster recovery (IT/DR) position; indeed, more often than not, they bring gains in recoverability and resilience. 

However, deciding on the appropriate strategy is more than just: “Everything goes into the cloud.”  

The Different Types of Data Center Strategies 

Nowadays, data-center strategies commonly involve a hybrid solution, in which some processing is done “on prem” (on the premises) and some in the cloud. The on-prem part of the work might be handled at a company-owned data center, a colo facility, or both.  

The cloud portion could entail moving solutions to a Software as a Service provider or using Infrastructure and Platform as a Service in a public or private cloud (think Amazon Web services or Azure).  

The Hard Part About DC Strategy Migration 

Data center migration has a lot in common with controlled disaster recovery. Essentially, you’re bringing your systems down in one location and then gracefully bringing them up in another, whether it’s physical (your own or a colo) or in the cloud. 

Moving the hardware used to be the answer. Today, it is often best to migrate to a new on-prem facility when it is time for a hardware refresh. This allows for the new hardware to be installed and the data and server to be replicated at the new location. When ready, the cut over can be a shutdown and start up, a method that entails hours worth of downtime instead of days.  

Additionally, when processing is being moved to the cloud, it’s important to verify that the applications or services being moved are compatible with the new environment. Legacy environments may not work in a cloud environment or not be supported.  

The Importance of Planning 

The key to a successful data-center strategy migration is planning. The importance of the planning phase of your data-center strategy and services movement cannot be overstated, especially given the complex integrations that are common today. The relationships among the hardware, software, applications, and business processes—and the impacts if certain portions are not available—must be addressed and understood.  

Data-center migration is not a job for cowboys, in any of its phases. This project is for careful, patient, detail-oriented people.  

The lead time for any movement of services is typically several months and may take a year or more for complex environments.  

Potential Pitfalls of Data Center Migration

It’s wise to be aware of the kinds of things that can go wrong during a DC migration. Here are a handful of potential pitfalls: 

  1. If you’re doing a physical move, equipment can break in transit or your machines might not start up at the new location. 
  1. Dependencies might be missed. 
  1. Integration between on-prem and managed services requires a specific configuration or network access that is not understood.  
  1. Authentication and security requirements are neglected or not understood.  

Every single one of these things can happen in a move. In fact, they can all happen in the same move. 

The Importance of Management Support 

The more that senior management supports your data center migration, the more likely it is to go smoothly.  

Your company’s senior leadership can assist the move in many ways. One of the main ones is refereeing among different departments. This is commonly an issue in the timing of a migration.  

Selecting a time for the move tends to be hard because it almost always happens that a time of year that works well for some departments is a serious inconvenience for others. If senior management is supportive and involved, they can be a great help in resolving impasses between business units. 

Understanding Your Business Needs 

Some of the first things to consider are your project and business needs. Based on these, the best time to conduct the move can be determined. Try to identify the time that will cause the least disruption to the business. You might need to call on senior management to resolve disagreements between departments. 

  • Your first analysis should aim at coming to an initial understanding of the environment. 
  • As the project takes shape, start matching your needs to your internal capabilities. Identify areas where you should probably bring in outside assistance. These outside resources can be especially helpful in connection with cloud service needs such as networking, data protection, and availability.  
  • As things come into focus, you can start working out how you’re going to do the move and what can be moved when. 
  • It is critical to understand the dependencies among the various departments and processes, including in scheduling the moves. 

Ensure that networking, security, and authentication impacts are understood and addressed. The same goes for connectivity between all the environments (on-prem, SaaS, managed services, cloud, remote workers, etc.).  

The Benefits of Obtaining Third-Party Assistance 

In terms of outside help, consulting your vendors and benefiting from their insight will make the overall process go more smoothly and decrease risks. Look to other organizations that have performed similar migrations. Gain their insight and learn from their struggles or missteps.  

If moving hardware is part of the migration, you should also bring in an outside firm to move any hardware that needs to be transported. This should be a company that specializes in the moving of computer equipment, given the delicacy of such equipment and the importance of the task. 

The Keys to Successful Data Center Migration 

Moving to a hybrid strategy from a fully on-prem data center can potentially bring significant benefits to your organization; however, the task is a challenging one.  

The keys to successful data migration are careful planning, management support, the ability to tease out the dependencies among your systems and applications, and, possibly, help from an outside resource experienced in conducting your type of migration.  

Further Reading 

For more information on data center migration and other hot topics in BC and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from MHA Consulting and BCMMETRICS: 

About
Richard Long
Richard Long is one of MHA’s practice team leaders for Technology and Disaster Recovery related engagements. He has been responsible for the successful execution of MHA business continuity and disaster recovery engagements in industries such as Energy & Utilities, Government Services, Healthcare, Insurance, Risk Management, Travel & Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Education. Prior to joining MHA, Richard held Senior IT Director positions at PetSmart (NASDAQ: PETM) and Avnet, Inc. (NYSE: AVT) and has been a senior leader across all disciplines of IT. He has successfully led international and domestic disaster recovery, technology assessment, crisis management and risk mitigation engagements.
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