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January 25, 2024 | Matt Pacheco

What is Lift and Shift in a Cloud Migration?

Is your on-premises IT environment weighing you down, keeping you from innovating in the cloud? A lift and shift cloud migration can lighten the load. Lift and shift involves moving your current IT environment to the cloud, often public cloud, with minimal work to the environment itself prior to migration. We’ll cover what a lift and shift approach is, how it’s different from other cloud migration methods, and what to think about before performing lift and shift at your organization.

What is Lift and Shift?

With the “lift and shift” method, also known as “rehosting,” the data and applications are moved to the cloud without making major changes. About 75% of tech leaders are building new features and products in the cloud according to Pluralsight’s State of the Cloud report, meaning that the other 25% are still relying on lift and shift migration for their cloud projects. Plus, end-user public cloud spending is expected to surpass $1 trillion by 2027, according to a recent Gartner press release, echoing the growing importance of cloud computing in the years to come.

While a lift and shift approach can be a simple way to move workloads to the cloud, the technique doesn’t work for every scenario. Some data and applications may have dependencies that make them more difficult to migrate. However, the lift and shift method still offers a valuable on-ramp for businesses looking to move more of their existing systems to the cloud.

How is This Method Different from Refactoring and Replatforming?

Rehosting, refactoring, and replatforming offer three different approaches to cloud migration. With replatforming, teams will restructure and fine-tune applications to make sure they perform more effectively in the cloud. This can look like making adjustments and enhancements, like making it so that codebases work with cloud-native services and APIs, allowing for greater cloud resilience or scalability.

Refactoring and rearchitecting are the two more comprehensive cloud strategies. With these methods, organizations will move and modify the architecture of an application so that they can use cloud-native features in the best possible ways. More rewriting is likely to be involved with refactoring and rearchitecting.

The Advantages of a Lift and Shift Cloud Migration

It’s not easy to make significant operational shifts in most businesses, especially with well-established on-premises frameworks. Lift and shift cloud migration can be a speedy, simple, and flexible solution for organizations looking to migrate some workloads to the cloud without the project being too involved.

Speed and Cost Efficiency

Because lift and shift cloud migration is a simpler process, it minimizes downtime and upfront investments for businesses. This enables a faster and more cost-effective cloud migration. Generally, the on-premises application can remain operational during the migration so that there’s little to no interruption to the service as well.

Reduced Complexity

Changing code and infrastructure can create a cascade of small pieces that need to be altered when refactoring or replatforming for the cloud. Conversely, performing a lift and shift cloud migration avoids complex code changes and infrastructure modifications, simplifying the process for IT teams.

Flexibility and Scalability

Indeed, doing a lift and shift migration may not allow all applications to work in the cloud perfectly. However, migrating existing applications in this way offers greater scalability and flexibility that can mean more promising future growth compared to maintaining on-premises workloads. The on-demand scalability offered by cloud architecture allows for resource increases and decreases in an instant, plus the flexibility leads to greater cost efficiencies. Lift and shift can also mean improved performance when businesses can run their applications on updated hardware, beyond what they’ve had in their legacy infrastructure.

The Disadvantages of a Lift and Shift Cloud Migration

Shortcuts can bring about changes in more efficient and helpful ways, but they’re not without their disadvantages. Lift and shift migrations can come with issues stemming from technical debt, vendor lock-in, and optimization deficits.

Technical Debt

Technical debt can be either planned or inadvertent. When companies make shortcuts in their software development, for example, this is planned technical debt. When the growth of a business is impeded by technical limitations in legacy applications, this can be an inadvertent consequence of technical debt. Organizations that experience technical limitations because of legacy applications will face performance issues and potentially even security vulnerabilities in the cloud.

Vendor Lock-In

It’s easy to rush into a new cloud migration project, excited about the potential that new infrastructure brings, without thinking about ramifications down the road. Businesses that jump into working with a specific cloud provider may find themselves dependent on that provider for the operation of their workloads, not considering portability options upfront.

Missing Optimization

Because lift and shift is a more stripped-down cloud migration strategy, this approach may not take advantage of all available cloud-native features and optimization opportunities. These capabilities may only be possible through refactoring or replatforming, for example.

When Should You Implement a Lift and Shift Cloud Migration?  

Lift and shift cloud migration is an appropriate solution for businesses looking to move to the cloud quickly or for those looking for a pilot program to rationalize future efforts in the cloud.

Here are a few situations where lift and shift might be the best strategy:

  • Migration Before Modernization: Perhaps you have a loftier goal to modernize your applications down the road, but you’re looking to save on infrastructure costs in the short term. A lift and shift migration can help you move applications to the cloud as a first step before you spend time rebuilding. Sometimes, continuity is a bigger priority over more resource-intensive modernization projects.

  • Contending With Time Constraints: Businesses with hardware failures, expiring leases, or time-sensitive compliance requirements may need to swiftly transition to the cloud. In these cases, lift and shift may be the only viable option. In disaster recovery, time is also of the essence. Lift and shift can help organizations rapidly replicate their on-premises workloads.

  • Proof of Concept: For more successful cloud migration efforts, businesses need to have buy-in at all levels. This may require a proof of concept project. Lift and shift migrations are lower-risk and can help assess cloud performance and boost faith in larger adoption projects later.

  • VM-Centric Replications: Applications that are already using virtual machines work particularly well with lift and shift migration because there isn’t much needed to move them to cloud-based VMs. For example, AWS has tools for seamless VM image transfers between on-premises environments and AWS.

Should You Lift and Shift to the Cloud?

Deciding whether to lift and shift to the cloud will depend on your budget, internal and external resources, what your workloads look like, and your short- and long-term cloud goals. There is no one “best option.” Starting with a lift and shift strategy can serve as a great first step or stopgap for businesses looking to prioritize continuity or develop a proof-of-concept for more cloud migration projects. It may also be all you need if you have cloud-friendly applications that you need to migrate.

In any case, businesses can always consider multiple migration strategies and even mix and match if it’s needed. The lift and shift method is just one of the seven R’s of cloud migration strategy – it’s not uncommon to apply a couple of different methods together to achieve the right migration for your workloads.

Evaluate Your Needs with a Lift and Shift Migration Assessment

A migration assessment should detail all of the factors that may impact or impede the ultimate migration or shape what’s next in your migration journey. Your assessment might include the tools that may be valuable to automate parts of your migration plan; the length of time you need to support the application in each environment; the order of operations and priority for migrations if you plan on moving more than one application; and any compliance issues you are hoping to address or may need to address post-migration.

Create a Lift and Shift Cloud Migration Plan

Each lift and shift cloud migration plan will look different, but every plan will go through the preparation, migration, and post-migration phases.

Including assessment, the preparation phase will include setting up a cloud account, running some pre-migration tests, and applying necessary security controls and access management policies.

During the migration phase, businesses will move data to the cloud using pre-determined methods and tools, deploy applications on cloud infrastructure, and configure them in the cloud with manual or automated tasks.

Post-migration, organizations should perform validation and testing, fine-tune and optimize their cloud resources, and set up ongoing monitoring and support to ensure cloud-based applications continue to perform as expected. 

It’s easy for a project to get out of hand, so be sure you’ve also set good parameters in your plan to address scope creep.

Need Help Building Your Cloud Migration Strategy?

Unlock the full potential of your business with our comprehensive cloud migration solutions. Discover how the “lift and shift” method can seamlessly transition your data and applications to the cloud without the need for extensive modifications. By leveraging this efficient approach, you can minimize downtime and reduce costs, all while maintaining the integrity and performance of your critical systems.

Ready to take the next step in your IT modernization journey? Explore our detailed guide on how to modernize your IT infrastructure and drive growth to learn about the latest strategies and technologies that can help you stay ahead in a competitive market.

Learn more about what to expect on your journey to the cloud in our eBook.

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