What is cloud migration?
Explore what cloud migration entails, learn about the benefits of developing a cloud migration plan, and discover how to manage a successful migration.
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What is cloud migration?

Cloud migration is the process of relocating an organization’s data, applications, and workloads to a cloud infrastructure. Your organization may choose to relocate all of its computing assets to a cloud; however, in most cases, some applications and services still remain on-premise.

Migration may involve one or more clouds. Some clouds are public, whereby services are delivered over the public internet, and some clouds are private, consisting of secure cloud infrastructure available to only a specific organization. Organizations commonly use several clouds, both public and private, in a hybrid cloud environment that also includes on-premise computing assets.

Check out our video, "What is Cloud Migration?" for more of an overview:


The following are a few of the ways your organization can benefit from migrating data and workloads to the cloud:

  • Scalability: The cloud removes the physical constraints to scalability and reduces the financial limitations of adding servers and the supporting infrastructure to a data center.

  • Cost-effectiveness: The cloud lets you pay for only the capacity you use. Instead of adding on-premise capacity to anticipate scalability you may or may not need, with cloud, you pay only for the capacity you need now and scale on demand when you need to.

  • Security: Clouds typically are secure environments that comply with applicable industry standards and government regulations. They are protected through security solutions and tools, best practices, and policies that cloud providers update as needed on a regular basis and at scale.

  • Accelerated adoption: Migrating applications to the cloud allows your company to adopt new technologies faster, while also enabling affordable, just-in-time technology adoption in response to business opportunities.

In short, enterprises typically migrate workloads to a cloud to improve operational performance and agility, workload scalability, and security.

Tools and services

Migrating data and applications to the cloud requires a set of tools that help avoid common pitfalls. Many legacy applications in an organization’s network are not optimized for the cloud, so they must be prepared for the transition with tools designed specifically for the task. Currently, you can choose from a multitude of tools in the market, giving you plenty of choices to handle specific aspects of migration.

Migration tools are necessary because they simplify and accelerate the migration process with minimal disruption to your day-to-day operations. Automated tools, specifically, are designed to remove the complexities of migration and speed the process.

Various migration tools are available, including the following types:

  • SaaS (software as a service): SaaS tools are cloud-based applications that create links between on-premise data and destination clouds and enable a secure transition of data. Cloud-based tools typically are automated and the simplest to use.

  • Open source: Open source tools usually are available for free or at a low cost, and they offer high levels of customization. Using these tools requires the requisite experience to tailor them to a project’s specific needs.

  • Batch processing: First used in mainframe environments, batch processing tools are designed to transfer large volumes of data. Typically, they are programmed to run after hours in order to prevent network traffic congestion.

Be sure to choose tools that are compatible with your operating systems and platforms. It is also important to look for tools that provide monitoring, reporting, and graphing capabilities that enable your project managers to track and document the progress of your cloud migration.


Organizations planning a cloud migration have access to an abundance of vendor services that offer a combination of tools, expertise, and varying levels of automation to streamline the migration process. Look for automated services that provide dashboards that allow project managers to track progress and make adjustments as needed.

Secure cloud migration services that have been tested and employ best practices can accelerate the process, minimize risks associated with migration, and help prevent downtime. Migration services can provide organizations the necessary tooling, automation, and expertise to successfully execute a secure migration to the cloud. Depending on an organization’s requirements, services can be set to move entire workloads at one time or in groups.

Strategies, plans, and checklists

Cloud migration strategy


A successful cloud migration requires the planning and execution of a comprehensive strategy that sets migration goals, creates a timeline, anticipates challenges, and defines the project’s success.

Migration strategies take into account which workloads to move to the cloud, which to keep on-premise, and which new capabilities and applications to add once in the cloud. Your migration strategy should cover specific use cases for the workloads to be migrated. This may include mission-critical enterprise applications, data backup and recovery, productivity and collaboration applications, or software development projects. Defining use cases upfront enables you to create a solid strategy and sets the foundation for a properly executed migration process.

Migration strategies typically cover risk assessments, budgeting, and security, as well as the type of cloud—public or private—that will host each of the workloads being relocated. Increasingly, enterprises are using a multicloud approach, creating a hybrid cloud environment that could potentially become quite complex. Migration strategies should address the management of the environment in a consistent and simplified manner.

Elements of the security plan should include whether to encrypt all or certain types of data, compliance with regulations pertaining to data in motion and at rest, and replication requirements. 

Make sure your migration strategy also includes a communication component to not only keep all stakeholders abreast of the progress of the migration but also define their specific roles and responsibilities in the project


Cloud migration plan


Once your strategy has been formulated and approved, it’s time to proceed to the planning stages of migration. A migration plan must take into account all the workloads to be transferred to the cloud and the sequence for migrating them. A step-by-step approach can help with the success of migration by giving your team of implementers a chance to learn as they go along. Sometimes implementers choose a single workload to start a migration so they can test the process and assess the outcome. This makes it possible to make adjustments if deemed necessary.

Migration plans cover roadmaps, scheduling, project metrics, migration tools, and services, and they include a communication plan for organization leaders, implementers, cloud vendors, and—as appropriate—all stakeholders. The latter includes the users who will be affected by the changes resulting from the migration.


Key elements of a cloud migration plan


To be effective, your migration plan should include the following elements:

  • Workloads being migrated

  • Migration priorities and sequence

  • Timetable

  • Definition of processes and roles

  • Performance metrics

  • Stakeholder communication


Cloud migration checklist


To ease your transition to the cloud, prepare a checklist that helps keep the project on track by checking off each task as completed. A checklist can be as basic or exhaustive as project managers choose to make it. The following are some items to include:

  1. Determine which workloads will be relocated to the cloud and classify them by complexity, size, and production/not production.

  2. Research and select a cloud provider suitable to the workloads being relocated.

  3. Determine if you will need a multicloud approach based on your workloads.

  4. Perform a cost assessment for the migration.

  5. Assign a team to execute the migration.

  6. Communicate the goals of the migration to the team.

  7. Determine how much of the migration will be handled internally and by the cloud provider.

  8. Prioritize which workloads to migrate first.

  9. Prepare a plan outlining the roadmap and schedule for the migration.

  10. Ascertain whether the organization already uses any cloud-based applications and whether they should remain as they are or be replaced by new cloud-based services.

  11. Communicate to all stakeholders what to expect during and post-migration.

  12. Prepare a security plan for migration and post-migration.

  13. Establish KPIs for the migration.

  14. Check in with implementers along the way to review progress.

  15. Test, review, and make adjustments as needed.
Case studies

More than three-quarters (link resides outside IBM) of enterprises currently use the cloud in some form. The number of use cases grows from day to day as organizations turn to cloud migration to modernize their IT infrastructures, improve efficiencies and offer a better customer experience.

American Airlines, for instance, recently enabled passengers to rebook canceled or delayed flights (02:50) via its website, kiosks, or a mobile app. Previously, the rebooking system was accessible only to employees; customers would be told what their best alternative was, but had no way to verify it. Now passengers can see options for themselves and pick one through a cloud-based, self-service application that they can download to their mobile devices.

American Airlines made the application available in the midst of hurricane season when flight disruptions are common and unavoidable. The airline credits the cloud migration with its ability to provide technology that enables the company to keep pace with customer expectations.

Weston Foods leveraged a cloud transition to modernize its online ordering system. The company is one of two officially licensed bakers of Girl Scout cookies, which account for USD 800 million in annual revenue. With demand growing in recent years, Weston Foods realized its online ordering could not keep up with demand. Performance would be particularly strained on Sunday evenings when as many as five orders per second were placed. Sunday evening is the weekly cutoff for placing orders and when most of the troop leaders try to order cookies simultaneously.

Weston Foods deployed a new order management system that can autoscale whenever necessary to meet demand. If CPU usage stays at 80% for five minutes, the system can seamlessly spin up another virtual machine to share the workload. As a result of cloud migration, Weston Food has increased its cookie sales by 8% yearly.

When LiquidPower needed to become a standalone company within Berkshire Hathaway, it turned to cloud migration in order to modernize its systems and processes without disrupting services to customers. LiquidPower manufactures and sells pipeline drag-reducing agents. The products are injected into crude oil and gasoline pipelines to increase flow and reduce the energy used in the process.

LiquidPower migrated its SAP applications (02:34) to the cloud without any disruption to the business. The move increased the company’s scalability, preparing it for future growth, while also improving its ability to meet customer needs.

Costs, risks, and trends
Cloud migration costs

Calculating cost is one of the most challenging aspects of cloud migration. There is a tendency to underestimate the expenses incurred by the full process. With that in mind, make sure to not only consider the costs of migrating workloads but also the tools and services involved in the transition.

Other considerations include investments in network connectivity to handle increased bandwidth demands and post-migration costs to run workloads in a cloud environment. While cloud migrations reduce upfront costs when adding new technology, the cloud-based model of technology consumption generates new and ongoing costs that require planning and budgeting.

A 2017 Forrester Consulting study, "Due Diligence is the Cornerstone of Public Cloud Migration Success," (link resides outside IBM) found that many organizations fail to properly budget for cloud migration, often missing the need to treat costs as an ongoing, rather than finite, expense. The report’s main findings included the following:

  • Fewer than 40% of organizations meet or exceed goals related to migration and run costs.

  • Almost 58% of organizations found that running their infrastructure in the cloud exceeded their cost estimates.

  • Organizations would handle future migrations differently. The most common responses were to invest in tools, increase performance visibility, and get a better understanding of costs, risks, and benefits.

To better plan your costs, you can take advantage of cost calculators available online, which walk you through the compute model and other options relevant to the cloud migration process.

Financial planning is critical to successful cloud migration. When setting a budget, be sure to factor in current costs associated with the workloads being moved as well as the expense of moving those workloads and running them in the cloud. Proper budget planning also benefits from clearly defining project goals and setting a realistic timeline for migration.

Many organizations have found it beneficial for effective budget planning to work closely with consultants, cloud providers, and financial experts to conduct the necessary assessments and prepare accurate cost projections.

Cloud migration risks

As with any other type of business project, cloud migration poses some risks to an organization. The better you understand these risks and address them upfront, the less likely they will be to cause delays, raise unexpected obstacles, or even completely derail the migration project. The main risks to be addressed include the following:

  • Architectural complexity: You need to address the challenge of matching your organization’s cloud strategy with the overall IT strategy. When enterprises move workloads to cloud infrastructures, they typically blend public and private clouds with on-premise assets to create a hybrid environment. Without proper planning and vision, a hybrid environment can quickly grow into a highly complex architecture that is difficult to manage. To avoid this outcome, you need to design a cloud architecture that is compatible with their in-house IT infrastructure to minimize inconsistencies and interoperability problems between different systems.

  • Poor application selection: It’s important to avoid selecting applications to run in the cloud that are better suited to run on-premise. Which workloads belong on-premise depends on your company, its specific needs, and business goals. Factors that come into play in making these decisions typically involve latency, security, and the volumes of data that would have to travel back and forth from the cloud.

  • Application dependencies: Application dependencies are another possible risk factor. Having a clear picture of the relationship between each application with servers, databases, and other services to which it connects is critical to a smooth migration process. Discovery tools can help you build this picture and prevent a situation in which pieces of an application are left behind unintentionally.

  • Unwanted latency: Latency can occur when accessing applications, databases, and services in the cloud. Applications that require immediate responses to alerts and notifications have a very low tolerance for latency. Examples might involve autonomous vehicles, medical equipment (such as pacemakers and insulin pumps), and intelligent road signs. To prevent latency issues, either consider keeping such applications on-premise or making sure your network provider has optimization services that address latency.

  • Security considerations: Moving data to and from cloud infrastructures poses some security risks. To address these risks, choose your network connections carefully, opting for a secure private connection to handle particularly sensitive data, and ensure their cloud providers have the tools, practices, and policies in place to comply with relevant security requirements.
Cloud migration trends

Cloud adoption by the enterprise is increasingly common. Currently, the overwhelming majority of enterprises use the cloud in some form, and, in most cases, organizations are leveraging multiple clouds.

Most enterprises have a cloud strategy, and 85% of them use multiple clouds. The current trend in the enterprise is to leverage four to five clouds on average. The multicloud trend is fueled by the practice of mixing and matching applications to the cloud infrastructure that is best suited to each specific workload. Multicloud strategies, therefore, add stability while increasing flexibility and scalability.

Digital transformation is another driver of cloud migration trends. Organizations are turning to cloud infrastructures to accelerate their digitization plans to spur innovation, hone go-to-market strategies, and enhance customer experience. Companies are leveraging the elasticity of the cloud to accelerate development projects to introduce new services and products in their respective markets.

Lastly, another major driver of cloud migration is the Internet of Things (IoT), which aims to connect devices with other devices and humans to collect, review, and act on data in myriad ways. As it expands, the IoT will depend heavily on cloud infrastructures to process, store, and analyze the massive volumes of data captured by sensors, trackers, and monitoring devices in a wide variety of settings. Enterprises looking to kickstart their IoT implementations naturally are turning to the cloud to accelerate their deployment plans.

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Take the next step

Whether you are planning a cloud migration to launch one mobile app for a better customer experience or to modernize your application estate on a larger journey to cloud, a successful plan is important.  Find out how IBM Services for Cloud Migration can advise you on the best migration approach for your enterprise, showing you how to put a migration plan in place, test different options for migration, prepare budgets, and calculate ROI.

Learn more about IBM Cloud Migration Services