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Migrating to the Cloud? Don’t Dismiss Lift and Shift

By: Scott Morris


Organizations everywhere are embracing the cloud and transitioning their workloads to take advantage of cloud-native benefits. A recent forecast from Gartner projects that end-user spending for public cloud services will grow 20.4% in 2022 to total $494.7 billion, up from $410.9 billion in 2021. As companies begin to audit their applications and decide how to take on a digital transformation, they must consider which strategy will work best for their needs. 

From rebuilding to replacing, there are several different migration strategies for organizations to consider, and one that often gets overlooked is rehosting, also known as the lift-and-shift approach. If lift and shift is a viable way for companies to migrate their workloads to the cloud, why are so many dismissing the strategy?

Companies focused on the end goal may see migration as a one-time chance to improve their operations, but in doing so, they miss out on lift and shift’s immediate and long-term benefits. When leveraged at the beginning of a migration, rehosting can be an invaluable approach for realizing the scalability, reliability, and security that cloud hosting can offer while moving legacy systems with minimal disruption.

Understanding what a lift and shift is and the common misconceptions that often lead organizations to dismiss it can help you realize that this may very well be the right strategy for your company’s needs.

What Is A Lift & Shift?

Lift and shift is a strategy for migrating applications or workloads to a cloud infrastructure without having to make major changes to the application or architecture. While other strategies may completely abandon existing code or rewrite it, lift and shift simply takes an existing application and moves it to the cloud — no redesigning needed.

Changing How We Think of Cloud Migrations

Too often, organizations approach rehosting with a negative bias that sways them to use a different strategy, only to fall back to lift and shift when the original plans fail. Much like any other strategy, lift and shift requires careful planning to be executed successfully. Treating lift and shift as a last resort diminishes its benefits, and what could have been a successful migration instead results in setbacks that impact your bottom line. Lift and shift should not be seen as a plug-and-play option — it’s the first step of many in an organization’s digital transformation.

Debunking Common Misconceptions

Undergoing a major digital transformation can be a daunting task for any organization. Fear of failure, the potential to expose new vulnerabilities, and having to relearn all-new systems can create massive service disruptions. While these are all valid concerns, they tend to pigeonhole decision makers into believing that migration is a one-time only chance to improve a system rather than the first step of many in the overall life of the system’s infrastructure.

If you’re planning to implement a cloud migration, here are some common phrases you might be hearing surrounding a discussion about lift and shift and considerations to counter them.

“We won’t achieve cost savings over our current data centers.”

It’s true — lift and shift may not always be the most cost-effective option — but rarely, if ever, is cost the only primary driver in decision-making. Lift and shift can have considerable advantages that may significantly outweigh any initial cost concerns. For example, lift and shift can turn the capital expenses (CapEx) of on-premises hosting into operational expenses (OpEx), allowing flexibility in where your funds are spent and how they’re tracked over time.

When you start to consider scalability, security, performance during peak demands, and the time intensity of redesigning legacy systems, lift and shift is often one of, if not the, best ways to make the initial move to the cloud.

“The benefits of the cloud can’t be realized unless we rewrite the applications into cloud-native architecture.”

Typically, legacy systems have been running for years, require very little maintenance, and are fine-tuned to the benefit of their users. These systems are often designed by experts over time who may no longer be with the company, meaning a rewrite will involve complex reverse engineering that can tack on additional time and complexity to the migration.

Lift and shift not only helps to sidestep the potential risks that can result from rewriting an entire system but also allows architects to optimize certain functionalities to help take advantage of cloud benefits such as improved scalability and reliability.

“Moving our legacy system to the cloud will add complexity and compatibility issues.”

Many concerns surrounding the lift-and-shift approach stem from a failure to execute the strategy deliberately. Much like any other organizational transformation methodology, lift and shift can and will fail if proper planning is not conducted at the beginning. Organizations tend to view lift and shift as a failsafe if another plan runs awry, but this is precisely the issue. Lift and shift is not the easier path; it’s one of many and should be considered with the same weight as any other.

“We aren’t improving an outdated system.”

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding lift is shift is the notion that simply moving an application as-is doesn’t address the issue of improving the system as a whole.

While legacy systems tend to have little growth potential, they do have stability — which many redesigned systems lack. Pair that stability with the power of the cloud’s benefits, and you get a better system with minimal modifications. Old yet reliable systems can improve scalability through containerization and deployment across multiple data centers, which can help handle increased loads during peak demands. Where private data centers tend to fall behind in security, cloud services can maintain security maintenance to lower the risk of security breaches.

Migrating to the Cloud? Ask Yourself These Questions

So what’s next? If your organization is considering a cloud migration, ask these questions to help identify pain points and determine if a lift and shift is the right migration strategy for you:

  • Have you conducted a thorough analysis of the system and its dependencies to better understand your organization’s needs vs. the system’s capabilities?
  • Are you looking to or prepared to change data center costs from capital to operational expenses?
  • Is your team equipped to take responsibility for the maintenance and operations of a cloud-based system? If not, do you have the capability to bring in experts that can bridge the gap?
  • Does your organization have the in-house knowledge to assist in the complete replacement of a system that has developed years or even decades of refinement and value?
  • What are the organization’s goals for cloud migration? Do you want to lower expenses and improve areas such as scalability and security? Or do you need a long-term solution for a system that needs to be completely overhauled?

By answering these questions carefully, you can glean more comprehensive insights into the needs of your organization, your team, and even the system itself.

Simplify Cloud Migration with SEI’s Experts

Transforming your IT infrastructure can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. The expert cloud migration consultants at SEI can help you approach cloud migration with confidence. Rather than trying to apply one-size-fits-all solutions, we’ll deep dive into your applications to tailor a digital transformation strategy that aligns with your goals and budget.

Reach out to us today to learn more about lift and shift or any other cloud migrations strategies.

Scott Morris


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