Is a Lift and Shift Migration the right fit for your cloud project?

August 21, 2023
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Picture this: Your team has been wrangling databases, applications, and web servers hosted and run on hundreds of VMs for years now. You have workarounds for some of the most egregious limitations, but alas… you know the time has come to replace your VMs with cloud hosting. You know that the inefficiencies and security concerns are only the beginning of your worries if you don’t move to the cloud ASAP. 

This can be a monumental task, so how will you approach it? Lift and Shift is one of the first options to consider. This involves taking your existing VMs and converting them (if necessary), and moving them directly to the cloud. It often involves no code changes and minimal downtime. Not to mention, these types of migrations often have the shortest timetable.

If you’re thinking, “Well, that sounds perfect! Why would anyone choose a different approach?!”, read on for a breakdown of the pros and cons of a lift and shift migration.

Benefits of a Lift and Shift Migration

Let’s start with the brighter side of lift and shift. Depending on your business and needs, there are a few reasons this method might be a good option for you.

✔️ It’s fast.
Migrating applications to the cloud as-is is faster than a custom migration solution.

✔️ It’s cheap.
Lift and shift, by its nature, takes fewer resources and less development effort, resulting in lower costs for the migration itself.

✔️ It’s not too disruptive.
Since you’re not making changes to the existing applications—just moving them to the cloud—there is minimal disruption to the operations, user experience, and existing workflows.

✔️ It’s easy to learn.
You’ll continue working with the same technologies and tools as before the migration, meaning there’s little-to-no need for retraining or adaptation by your team.

Downsides of a Lift and Shift Migration

If you’re thinking that fast, cheap, and easy sounds too good to be true… you might be right. The initial lift for this type of migration might be lower cost, but you might be leaving some longer-term savings on the table. There are a few reasons why a lift and shift migration might not be the right fit for your migration.

❌ It’s not optimized.
Shifting your existing infrastructure to the cloud simply can’t take full advantage of the scalability offered by cloud providers. The migrated VMs might be overprovisioned, costing more than they should.

❌ It’s stale.
By solely lifting and shifting applications, you miss out on opportunities to leverage the full potential of cloud-native services and architectures. This may limit your ability to innovate and take advantage of emerging technologies in the future.

❌ It’s inefficient.
If the existing on-premises architecture is not scalable, migrating it as-is will carry the same limitation into your cloud environment. You may technically be in the cloud, but you could find many issues that still haven’t been resolved.

❌ It’s limiting.
The cloud’s elasticity, resilience, and agility are missed opportunities in these types of migrations. As-is applications tend to still rely on traditional infrastructure patterns and lack scalability or rapid deployment capabilities. These are big misses in light of your total investment in a move to the cloud.

❌It’s insecure. Probably.
If your existing applications had security vulnerabilities or compliance issues before the migration, those concerns would likely persist through the migration. What’s more, you now have new attack vectors or audit requirements being in a cloud environment. This creates more work to address these security and compliance challenges.

So, is Lift and Shift the right approach for your cloud migration project?

The short answer is—it depends. 🤷

When It’s Definitely Not a Good Fit

Lift and shift migrations offer teams the quickest path to moving their on-premise applications into the cloud. While this strategy may have the lowest up-front cost, that comes at the expense of long-term savings. Additionally, this strategy doesn’t help to solve many of the problems that led to the decision to migrate to the cloud in the first place.

When It Could Be the Answer

Despite the downsides, there are still situations where this strategy is the right answer:

  • Maybe your team has an expiring contract in a colocation facility and wants to move before having to pay for another year (or more).
  • Or maybe your company is moving or eliminating offices, and you’re planning to downsize or eliminate your on-premise IT infrastructure.

These types of deadlines can make a lift and shift migration the only answer.

Choosing lift and shift also doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. Most of the drawbacks involve the long-term impacts of leaving applications in the same shape they were before the migration. These downsides can be mitigated by further evolving systems after the migration, unlocking the flexibility, scalability, and reliability that more cloud-native solutions provide.

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