The “Rule of Five” and Choosing a Cloud Data Migration Consultant

Five is an important number, five fingers, five toes. What is it about five?

It appears in pharmacology, programming in C++ and the success of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul. But what does this have to do with choosing an IT firm to help you with your data migration to a Cloud-based system?

One issue is you’re totally taxed in terms of the amount of time you have in a day. The other issue is there are generally not enough resources, both human and financial, to do your existing job properly. You end up just putting out fires. So, a large-scale data migration is a high-stakes project outside of your normal demands. Picking the right IT firm to help with that is something you need to get right the first time. Your career could literally be on the line.

The truth is that when confronted with any complex decision or issue, it is good to break it down into a small number of actions that you can measure. The problem is that too much information in the beginning can slow the whole process down.

With that in mind, we thought it might be helpful to identify five key factors to consider when looking to choose a firm to help you with your data migration to the Cloud.

But wait, how does Chicken Soup for the Soul fit into all of this?

ChickenSoup When faced with the complex problem and an assemblage of options for publishing their first book — not in the same league of complexity as moving your organization’s data to the Cloud — the authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul, asked a teacher for his advice. The advice given was simple. The teacher used the analogy of a lumberjack cutting down a tree. He told them that if the lumberjack went out to a very large tree and took five swings at it daily with a sharp axe, eventually, no matter the size of the tree, he would chop it down.

I can hear you thinking “but I don’t have until ‘eventually’. On my calendar, ‘eventually’ is long after my deadline.” Okay, this aspect of the analogy is not all that great. But keep reading because the information coming up will help reduce the time involved before and during the implementation period.

1) Get Needy and Establish Clear Roles from the Beginning

Okay, let’s start this new relationship off on the right foot. This is probably a big commitment on your part. Your business data and operations are on the line, so you need to understand and trust who you are going to be working with. But like intelligently going into any relationship, you must consider your needs first, and then what you expect to get from your partner.

As a part of this, you need to establish the role you expect your IT consultant to perform. Are they going to be the primary migration architect? Meaning, are you turning over complete responsibility to them? Are they defining the necessary refactoring and mapping decisions or are you a more active partner in those choices?

While this may seem like an obvious question, it is worth discussing upfront. Your in-house IT team may be faced with operational issues (the day-to-day problems of keeping the show on the road) and may not have the bandwidth to really address the issues of migrating to the Cloud. Or your data and systems could be such that your internal team must take a break from their current priorities and take a more significant role in your migration. Only you and your operational priorities will have the answer.

Some of the decisions on roles and their expectations will come from an internal audit of your data. Assess the volume of the data you’re moving, its security level, and the timescales you need for your Cloud transfer.

Another aspect to the relationship should be a local versus non-local data migration partner. Depending on the scope of your migration and the sensitivity of your data, you may require a local partner who can make “house-calls” and be a part of your internal team. On the other hand, there could be cost savings and a wider variety of providers if being “local” is not necessary.

2) The Chicken and Egg Theory of Data Migration

There is a bit of a chicken and egg issue when moving to the Cloud. Which comes first, the consultant or the platform? Depending on your team’s depth of understanding of the various platform strengths and weaknesses, relative to your operations, you might want to start by choosing the platform you are going to move to and then find the right service provider.

If you’re moving to a public Cloud platform, the main players are, of course, AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure, with AWS being the market leader. There are things to consider relative to each of these platforms that have to do with your existing enterprise and what you want to accomplish. All these major platforms offer Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The question for you is based around a usage and functionality assessment of the data you are moving. Are you simply moving your enterprise data to the Cloud or are you moving business-related applications where you need to additionally consider your application’s customer experience as well?

Given everything your team has on its plate, it may be smart to enlist the help of your potential data migration consultant to make the right choice.

What you need to keep in mind is that your consultant probably favors one of these platforms over another and may guide you in the direction with which they are most familiar. This is not to say that they are necessarily doing you a disservice. It is just something to consider when choosing a consultant.

Find out what platforms they have done migrations to — a firm that has helped organizations make the successful move to multiple platforms might be better for you if you are still trying to understand which Cloud platform makes the most sense. However, if you have already chosen the platform that you want to move to, it might be advantageous to hire a firm with deep experience with your chosen Cloud provider.

All major Cloud platform companies provide training and certification for IT firms who wish to move their clients to their specific Cloud platform. However, not all certifications and training are created equal. Most Cloud companies also provide more advanced certifications. Be sure you fully understand exactly what certifications your potential consultant has. These can usually be verified with the individual Cloud services. Take the time to make sure you are getting the level of training and experience that your data migration deserves.

3) Do You Really Know Me and My Needs?

You are going to want a data migration service provider that is familiar with your specific industry. Rules, regulations and other constraints can be completely different from one industry to the next. This can be one of those hidden problems that rears its ugly head at an inopportune time if not confronted in the beginning.

Does your potential data migration partner understand, even better than you, what is needed from a data security perspective regarding the standards for your industry? For example, if you are in a regulated industry like finance or healthcare, you need to partner with someone who can proactively help you to configure your migration so that you stay in compliance.

Best way to know this is to just ask them. Find out what other clients they have helped in your industry. Have them describe those migrations, as well as others, that they have done and listen for the challenges they encountered. More importantly, find out what they did to overcome those trouble spots for their clients. A potential partner should have a good number of stories, including horror stories, that they solved. Thin experience in your industry, especially if it is highly regulated, is something to avoid.

As a final note on this point, find out the extent of their customer service. Have them provide you case studies, preferably in your industry and with similar migrations in terms of size and scope. Find out their average response time. Are they available 24/7? Data migrations do not typically work on a 9 to 5 schedule. What is their process to handle problems? It is widely known that 80% of data migrations fail or run into significant bugs. Find out what their specific process is for handling them.

4) Understand Where You Are and Where You Are Going

You have settled on the platform you are moving to and you are narrowing down your picks for a consultant to help you get there.

They all have experience in the platform you have selected and the industry that you are in, check on both counts.

The next step that you will want to discuss with your potential data migration consultant will be baselines and progress markers. In a perfect world, your consultant will offer these up without being asked. A firm worth hiring should have these to hand and propose them as a part of your initial engagement.

Determine your baseline, which would be the performance of your system prior to the migration and establish what gains you hope to achieve post migration. The point of this is to obviously increase performance. But what are your expectations and what can your consultant promise and live up to? As a part of this process, you are going to want to break down the overall objective into smaller measurable chunks. These KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) will help you and your consultant measure success. The KPIs should start with the baseline, your present situation (performance level), and then allow you to measure forward progress as you complete the migration.

Part of this process will be determining your time-measurement metrics, are they daily, weekly or monthly measurements? This will depend on your organization and its data-management needs.

Obviously if you are moving a large application with thousands of users, you will need to monitor daily, perhaps even hourly, to make sure your user performance is maintained and then improved as a result of the migration. On the other hand, if this migration mostly impacts just your internal users, you might need to only measure weekly or month-to-month.

Determining your baseline also plays a role in how frequently you want to monitor and measure. One way to think about it is, are you going to measure an average performance to set your baseline? Or is it more important for you to set your baseline on “peak” or “critical” times for users? Which baseline works best for you will be determined by your operation.

A good data migration consultant should help you establish these metrics and ideally has previously established these with clients in your industry.

5) Migration Planning and Making the Big Switch

Planning is the ultimate key to doing a successful migration — we realize this goes without saying. However, when hiring an outside firm, it is critical that they have this in mind and not just necessarily leave it to you. While their role, as determined by you, might not be as the primary architect, a good consultant will have input, especially based on industry and platform-specific issues.

Some of the information that a good consultant should help you with is making the determination whether you should move all your data in one phase or if you should move and integrate it in stages. Your data migration consultant should bring an established methodology to the table. This should include an initial set-up (ensuring you have the right people and technology), to an overall data assessment, and finally the migration itself as well as any legacy decommissioning of your data.

One of the important keys when choosing a data migration consultant is determining what tools they plan on using when doing the migration. How widely used are those tools? How often have they been used in migrations of your scope?

One tool, LinkFixer Advancedhas been used in countless migrations and should be something your migration consultant should bring up. Unless you don’t have file links as a part of the data that you are migrating, which we highly doubt, a tool like LinkFixer Advanced would be helpful.

 

Those are our five main things to consider when hiring an IT firm to help you with your data migration. Of course, there are many other things to consider, but the five listed here are a good basis for your initial analysis. If you need additional help, feel free to reach out to us.

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