What is cloud migration?
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What is cloud migration?

Cloud migration is the process of moving data, applications and workloads from an on-premises data center to a cloud-based infrastructure or from one cloud environment to another (known as cloud-to-cloud migration).

A company may choose to migrate to a single cloud or multiple, and can utilize public cloud models, where services are delivered over the public internet, or private cloud models, wherein a secure, proprietary cloud infrastructure is accessible only to them. Many organizations choose a hybrid cloud environment, which combines public and private cloud services to create a single, flexible, cost-effective IT infrastructure that supports and automates workload management across cloud environments.

Multiclouds offer another option, allowing companies to migrate IT infrastructure using multiple public cloud providers. Multiclouds can be as simple as using software-as-a-service (SaaS) from different vendors to leverage portability features across infrastructures, but more often they involve managing enterprise applications on platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) across multiple cloud vendors (e.g., Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure) from a central console.

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Types of cloud migration

There are different types of cloud migration, varying in terms of what is being migrated and where it is moving to:

Complete data center migration

This is the process of moving all data, applications and services from on-premises data centers to a cloud provider’s servers. This is generally an extensive process that requires thorough planning and testing to ensure efficient execution.

Hybrid cloud migration

This involves moving a portion of resources to public cloud while leaving others in on-premises data centers. This hybrid cloud scenario allows organizations to take advantage of current investments in on-premises infrastructure while also leveraging the flexibility, efficiency, strategic value and other benefits of public cloud.

Hybrid cloud migration is also used for data backup. In this case, a company will back up its private cloud resources on a public cloud as a mitigation technique in the case of an attack or disaster that renders an on-premises data center inoperable.

Cloud to cloud migration

Organizations might move their resources from one public cloud to another for many reasons, including taking advantage of specific pricing models, security features or products (like new AI or machine learning tools) or because of changes to company structure or service level agreements.  

Workload-specific migration

Another option is to migrate specific workloads to cloud. For example, an organization might choose to migrate certain databases or mainframes to cloud in order to capitalize on lower costs, more reliable performance, better security and other factors.

The cloud migration process

Cloud migration has become a modernization imperative for businesses looking to streamline IT operations, implement cost-saving measures and realize end-to-end digital transformation. Tech analysts predict that 75 percent of organizations will adopt cloud-based data infrastructure by 2026.1

To ensure a successful transition, organizations should follow a well-defined workflow that focuses on comprehensive planning, execution and optimization.

Assess and plan

The first step in the workflow is cloud migration planning, which includes clearly articulating the business case for the migration. Once the team has established the “why,” it’s important conduct a thorough assessment of existing IT infrastructure, apps and data to identify what’s suitable for migration and assess dependencies that will require attention. In this phase, teams typically:

  • Inventory and categorize apps and data

  • Analyze app dependencies and interdependencies

  • Evaluate security and compliance requirements

  • Assess performance and scalability needs

  • Establish migration goals and priorities

  • Identify potential migration challenges
Select a cloud provider

When the assessment is complete, it’s time to select the cloud provider that best aligns with business needs. Some factors to consider:

  • Provider compatibility with existing apps and data

  • Service offerings, pricing models and support capabilities

  • Data sovereignty and compliance considerations

  • Scalability and availability of required resources

  • Interoperability with existing systems
Design the target cloud architecture

This process involves determining how apps, data and infrastructure will be organized in the cloud environment. Key considerations include:

  • Designing scalable and resilient cloud architectures

  • Defining networking and security configurations

  • Identifying appropriate cloud services and features

  • Optimizing cost-efficiency and performance

  • Ensuring data backup and disaster recovery mechanisms
Execute the migration

In this stage, the team will transfer the existing IT infrastructure to the new cloud environment. Depending on the migration strategy (e.g., lift-and-shift, replatforming, refactoring, etc.), the execution process will involve setting up the target cloud environment; provisioning virtual machines (VMs), storage and network resources; replicating or migrating data to the cloud; and deploying and configuring apps in the new cloud infrastructure.

Test and validate

Rigorous testing is vital to ensuring the functionality of newly transferred apps and data. Many teams choose to conduct:

  • Functional testing to validate application migration

  • Performance and load testing to assess scalability and responsiveness

  • Security testing to identify vulnerabilities and ensure compliance

  • User acceptance testing to validate end-user experience

It’s also important to resolve any issues or bugs identified during the testing and validation process.

Optimize and maintain cloud infrastructure

At this point, the focus shifts to optimizing the cloud resources and configurations. This entails:

  • Fine-tuning applications

  • Installing the necessary security measures and access controls

  • Setting up monitoring and alerting mechanisms

  • Streamlining resource utilization

  • Establishing governance and management processes

But cloud adoption isn’t a one-and-done process. Massive infrastructure and data transfers require continuous, real-time performance monitoring to really optimize the features of the new cloud infrastructure and ensure the long-term success of the migration. Organizations should be prepared to update/upgrade software and security protocols, scale up or down based on demand patterns, and monitor cloud costs to optimize cost-effectiveness.


Cloud migration strategies

Successful cloud migration requires a comprehensive strategy that lays out migration goals and anticipates challenges. For instance, legacy applications in an organization’s network may not be optimized for the cloud, so they must be prepared for the process with migration tools and approaches designed for the task.

Migration strategy should account for workloads that will move to the cloud (and the ones that will stay within the on-premises infrastructure), as well any new capabilities and/or applications the team should add after the migration is complete. The migration plan should also include roadmaps, timelines, project metrics and goals, as well as a strategy for relaying information to team leaders, cloud vendors and other stakeholders.

While each company’s exact approach will vary based on their circumstances and cloud service needs, there are some tried-and-true cloud migration strategies that can streamline the process.


Typically the quickest and least complex migration approach, rehosting—also called lift-and-shift—involves migrating applications and data from on-site infrastructure to a cloud platform without making significant changes to the architecture (likely using IaaS tools). However, this transfer strategy doesn’t fully take advantage of cloud-native features, so it’s best for applications that aren’t tightly coupled to the underlying infrastructure.


A replatforming (also known as lift-and-reshape) cloud strategy, on the other hand, attempts to leverage some cloud-native features (e.g., microservice architecture, Kubernetes containers, machine learning models, etc.) while maintaining compatibility by making specific, but minimal, changes to the existing IT architecture.


A refactoring, or re-architecting, approach requires the organization to redesign and redevelop applications—using a PaaS tool— to fully leverage cloud-native capabilities. Since it often requires significant changes to existing architecture, it tends to make data migration more scalable, resilient and efficient in the cloud environment. Refactoring allows businesses to maximize the business value of cloud solutions and utilize modern architectural patterns and models, like microservices and serverless computing.


The repurchasing strategy involves retiring an existing application and replacing it with an SaaS alternative. Instead of migrating the application to the cloud, businesses opt for a cloud-based SaaS solution that meets their needs. This approach provides instant access to cloud-based applications without the need for significant development efforts. Repurchasing can be particularly useful for transferring non-core applications like email, customer relationship management (CRM) and human resources management (HRM).


Finally, to implement a retiring (or sunsetting) approach, businesses must decommission outdated and/or unused applications. As part of the migration process, teams identify extraneous applications or systems and shut them down, reducing maintenance costs, eliminating redundant resources and streamlining the migration process by focusing only on critical applications.

Be sure to cover specific use cases (e.g., mission-critical enterprise applications, data backup and recovery, productivity/collaboration applications, software development projects) for the workloads you’re migrating. Defining use cases up front enables better strategy decisions and smoother execution.

Cloud migration benefits

Companies worldwide are embracing cloud migration for the various benefits that cloud computing offers. Here are just a few ways an organization can benefit from cloud migration:

Elastic scalability

Because cloud-based infrastructure removes many of the physical and financial obstacles to scalability (e.g., data center infrastructure, on-site server maintenance, etc.), it enables businesses to easily upscale or downscale their IT requirements when necessary.


Cloud services let businesses subscribe to workload management services on a pay-as-you-go basis. Instead of adding on-site capacity to anticipate future needs, companies can pay for the capacity they need now and scale on demand. Cloud services also help lower costs associated with setting up and running on-site data centers, which often require hefty hardware and utility expenditures and a large network of servers.

Increased security

Although no system is foolproof, cloud service providers implement extensive measures to protect sensitive data, and comply with industry standards and government regulations. Cloud environments can be protected by security tools and protocols and can automate software and security updates, measures proven to reduce security risk.2

Furthermore, cloud migration helps ensure data safety. In the event of a disaster, cloud infrastructure facilitates data recovery and helps maintain business continuity with minimal downtime, latency issues or data loss.

Accelerated adoption

Migrating applications to the cloud empowers businesses to adopt new technologies faster and enables affordable, just-in-time technology adoption in response to new business opportunities.

For instance, if a retail company wants to introduce an AI-driven recommendation system to its online store without cloud infrastructure, the company has to make considerable hardware investments, including the cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining on-premises infrastructure, and hiring personnel to manage it. It would also take quite a while to get the new infrastructure up and running. With a cloud-based infrastructure, the company could install the new AI system, at scale, within minutes, significantly reducing the time between decision-making and implementation.

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1Gartner Forecasts Worldwide Public Cloud End-User Spending to Reach Nearly USD 600 Billion in 2023,” Gartner, April 19, 2023 (link resides outside ibm.com)

2Understanding Patches and Software Updates,” CISA, February 23, 2023 (link resides outside ibm.com)