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Cloud Migration

What is Cloud Migration? Strategy, Process and Tools

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A cloud migration is when a company moves some or all of its data center capabilities into the cloud, usually to run on the cloud-based infrastructure provided by a public cloud service provider such as AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure.

As more and more companies have already transitioned to the cloud, migrations are increasingly taking place within the cloud, as companies migrate between different cloud providers (known as cloud-to-cloud migration). But for those making the initial foray to the cloud, there are a few critical considerations to be aware of, which we’ll take a look at below.

This is part of our series of comprehensive guides about Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

In this article, you will learn:

What are the Main Benefits of Migrating to the Cloud?

Here are some of the benefits that compel organizations to migrate resources to the public cloud:

  • Scalability
    Cloud computing can scale to support larger workloads and more users, much more easily than on-premises infrastructure. In traditional IT environments, companies had to purchase and set up physical servers, software licenses, storage and network equipment to scale up business services.
  • Cost
    Cloud providers offer managed services that lower your operational overhead and simplify maintenance tasks such as upgrades. Companies migrating to the cloud can spend significantly less on IT operations. They can devote more resources to innovation—developing new products or improving existing products.
  • Performance
    Migrating to the cloud can improve performance and end-user experience. Applications and websites hosted in the cloud can easily scale to serve more users or higher throughput, and can run in geographical locations near to end-users, to reduce network latency.
  • Digital experience
    Users can access cloud services and data from anywhere, whether they are employees or customers. This contributes to digital transformation, enables an improved experience for customers, and provides employees with modern, flexible tools.

What are Common Cloud Migration Challenges?

Cloud migrations can be complex and risky. Here are some of the major challenges facing many organizations as they transition resources to the cloud.

Lack of Strategy

Many organizations start migrating to the cloud without devoting sufficient time and attention to their strategy. Successful cloud adoption and implementation requires rigorous end-to-end cloud migration planning. Each application and dataset may have different requirements and considerations, and may require a different approach to cloud migration. The organization must have a clear business case for each workload it migrates to the cloud.

Cost Management

When migrating to the cloud, many organizations have not set clear KPIs to understand what they plan to spend or save after migration. This makes it difficult to understand if migration was successful, from an economic point of view. In addition, cloud environments are dynamic and costs can change rapidly as new services are adopted and application usage grows.

Vendor Lock-In

Vendor lock-in is a common problem for adopters of cloud technology. Cloud providers offer a large variety of services, but many of them cannot be extended to other cloud platforms. Migrating workloads from one cloud to another is a lengthy and costly process. Many organizations start using cloud services, and later find it difficult to switch providers if the current provider doesn't suit their requirements.

Data Security and Compliance

One of the major obstacles to cloud migration is data security and compliance. Cloud services use a shared responsibility model, where they take responsibility for securing the infrastructure, and the customer is responsible for securing data and workloads. 

So while the cloud provider may provide robust security measures, it is your organization’s responsibility to configure them correctly and ensure that all services and applications have the appropriate security controls. 

The migration process itself presents security risks. Transferring large volumes of data, which may be sensitive, and configuring access controls for applications across different environments, creates significant exposure.

Cloud Migration Strategies

Gartner has identified five cloud migration techniques, known as the “5 Rs”. Organizations looking to migrate to the cloud should consider which migration strategy best answers their needs. The following is a brief description of each:

  • Rehost. Rehosting, or ‘lift and shift,’ involves using infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). You simply redeploy your existing data and applications on the cloud server. This is easy to do and is thus suited for organizations less familiar with cloud environments. It is also a good option for cases where it is difficult to modify the code, and you want to migrate your applications intact. 
  • Refactor. Refactoring, or ‘lift, tinker, and shift,’ is when you tweak and optimize your applications for the cloud. In this case, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) model is employed. The core architecture of the applications remain unchanged, but adjustments are made to enable the better use of cloud-based tools.
  • Revise. Revising builds upon the previous strategies, requiring more significant changes to the architecture and code of the systems being moved to the cloud. This is done to enable applications to take full advantage of the services available in the cloud, which may require introducing major code changes. This strategy requires foreplanning and advanced knowledge. 
  • Rebuild. Rebuilding takes the Revise approach even further by discarding the existing code base and replacing it with a new one. This process takes a lot of time and is only considered when companies decide that their existing solutions don’t meet current business needs. 
  • Replace. Replacing is another solution to the challenges that inform the Rebuild approach. The difference here is that the company doesn’t redevelop its own native application from scratch. This involves migrating to a third-party, prebuilt application provided by the vendor. The only thing that you migrate from your existing application is the data, while everything else about the system is new.

A 4-Step Cloud Migration Process

1. Cloud Migration Planning

One of the first steps to consider before migrating data to the cloud is to determine the use case that the public cloud will serve. Will it be used for disaster recovery? DevOps? Hosting enterprise workloads by completely shifting to the cloud? Or will a hybrid approach work best for your deployment.

In this stage it is important to assess your environment and determine the factors that will govern the migration, such as critical application data, legacy data, and application interoperability. It is also necessary to determine your reliance on data: do you have data that needs to be resynced regularly, data compliance requirements to meet, or non-critical data that can possibly be migrated during the first few passes of the migration?

Determining these requirements will help you charter a solid plan for the tools you’ll need during migration, identifying which data needs to be migrated and when, if the data needs any scrubbing, the kind of destination volumes to use, and whether you’ll need encryption of the data both at rest and in transit.

Related content: read our guide to cloud migration tools.

2. Migration Business Case

Once you have determined your business requirements, understand the relevant services offered by cloud providers and other partners and their costs. Determine the expected benefits of cloud migration along three dimensions: operational benefits, cost savings, and architectural improvements.

Build a business case for every application you plan to migrate to the cloud, showing an expected total cost of ownership (TCO) on the cloud, compared to current TCO. Use cloud cost calculators to estimate future cloud costs, using realistic assumptions - including the amount and nature of storage used, computing resources, taking into account instance types, operating systems, and specific performance and networking requirements. 

Work with cloud providers to understand the options for cost savings, given your proposed cloud deployment. Cloud providers offer multiple pricing models, and provide deep discounts in exchange for long-term commitment to cloud resources (reserved instances) or a commitment to a certain level of cloud spend (savings plans). These discounts must be factored into your business plan, to understand the true long-term cost of your cloud migration.

3. Cloud Data Migration Execution

Once your environment has been assessed and a plan has been mapped out, it’s necessary to execute your migration. The main challenge here is carrying out your migration with minimal disruption to normal operation, at the lowest cost, and over the shortest period of time.

If your data becomes inaccessible to users during a migration, you risk impacting your business operations. The same is true as you continue to sync and update your systems after the initial migration takes place. Every workload element individually migrated should be proven to work in the new environment before migrating another element.

You’ll also need to find a way to synchronize changes that are made to the source data while the migration is ongoing. AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure provide built-in tools that aid in cloud and data migration, and later in this article we’ll see how NetApp users benefit from migrating with services and features that come with Cloud Volumes ONTAP.

4. Ongoing Upkeep 

Once that data has been migrated to the cloud, it is important to ensure that it is optimized, secure, and easily retrievable moving forward. It also helps to monitor for real-time changes to critical infrastructure and predict workload contentions.

Apart from real-time monitoring, you should also assess the security of the data at rest to ensure that working in your new environment meets regulatory compliance laws such as HIPAA and GDPR.

Another consideration to keep in mind is meeting ongoing performance and availability benchmarks to ensure your RPO and RTO objectives should they change.

Migrating Data to the Cloud with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Cloud migrations can be complex and contain a lot of moving parts. One of the most complex aspects of a migration, especially in a large enterprise, is moving and synchronizing large volumes of data.

NetApp’s cloud solutions can help simplify the migration process by providing tools that will help you move and sync data easily, quickly and securely. In this section we will discuss some of the benefits of using.

Faster Transfers, Lower Costs

With Cloud Volumes ONTAP, NetApp provides several tools that help you automate, sync data faster, and secure your data while transitioning to the cloud.

NetApp’s SnapMirror data replication technology gives Cloud Volumes ONTAP a way to seamlessly transition data and workloads into the cloud not just during the initial migration, but onwards with continuous synchronization according to the user’s pre-defined schedules. Cloud Volumes ONTAP storage efficiencies also help reduce network bandwidth costs during migrations by reducing storage footprint, which also accelerates data transfers.

For users of on-premises FAS or AFF ONTAP storage systems, SnapMirror enables you to seamlessly move data to or from the cloud as necessary for ongoing hybrid environment syncs. For migrations that are being carried out from systems that are not both ONTAP, NetApp offers Cloud Sync to carry out the migration between any kind of object-based storage repository.

High Availability with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

This is one of the most important parameters to measure uptime. Some of the biggest cloud migration challenges that can impact your business continuity arise from failing to plan for issues such as drive failures, network misconfigurations, and Availability Zone failures.

The Cloud Volumes HA configuration can help you achieve a recovery point objective (RPO) of zero and a recovery time objective (RTO) of less than 60 seconds. This is possible through the use of a dual-node infrastructure that synchronously writes changes to both nodes during storage operations. This ensures that if one node fails, operations seamlessly transition to the other node, resulting in no downtime from an application or end-user perspective.

These features ensure that your cloud environment is resilient, safe from service disruptions, and able to host critical workloads as well as data migration processes without requiring expensive HA setup on the application side.

Note, this service has a unique configuration in each cloud. To find out more, follow these links for additional details on AWS high availability, Azure high availability architecture, or Google Cloud high availability.

Data Protection

Cloud Volumes ONTAP uses NetApp Snapshot™ technology to create application-aware snapshots that have no performance impact and consume minimal storage space.

Cloud Volumes allows creation of application-aware snapshots that have no performance impact and consume minimal storage space. These snapshots are created in a matter of seconds irrespective of the size of the volume that is being copied. Instead of copying all the data in the system, NetApp Snapshots only copy the data that was changed by manipulating block pointers.

For ongoing migrations, these snapshots are a low-cost and highly efficient way to protect your system. And snapshot creation can also be entirely automated in order to create backups, which for many users has benefits over using native Google Cloud automatic backup or AWS or Azure services for disk backup.

Data Classification

In a migration, it’s crucial to understand which data is moving and where. NetApp BlueXP classification is a data governance and classification tool that can automatically discover, map, classify, and act on enterprise data, wherever it’s stored—on-prem or in the cloud. With BlueXP classification, users gain full visibility and control over data based on automated and AI driven analysis of metadata and data context.

For companies planning migrations, these capabilities are particularly useful in determining where private data you have is stored so you can take the proper precautions to protect it, in light of privacy regulations. It also makes it possible to pinpoint duplicate and stale data so you can carry out clean migration.

Cost Optimization

The major benefits of using Cloud Volumes ONTAP come with its storage efficiency features: thin provisioning, data compression, deduplication, and compaction as well as data tiering, and FlexClone writable clones. The storage efficiency features work in tandem to limit the amount of storage you consume and reduce data in transit costs. All together, these benefits can save a company as much as 50% to 70% in storage and data transfer costs.

Proven Success with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Many enterprises have successfully used Cloud Volumes ONTAP to help migrate their workloads and achieve storage efficiency and cost savings. Let’s take a look at some of those customers.


Monash University, the largest university in Australia, used Cloud Volumes ONTAP to carry out an AWS cloud migration strategy. Monash was able to decommission their data centers and completely migrate their entire repository of student data and educational software to AWS storage using Cloud Volumes ONTAP for AWS. Their cloud migration challenges were to do this without impacting their student, business, and research activities. In the words of Monash’s infrastructure leader, Cloud Volumes ONTAP “allowed us to transition to the cloud seamlessly. It enabled us to easily migrate our data and bring the benefits of our onsite NetApp data management and data protection to AWS.”

Read more AWS cloud migration success stories here.


Another Cloud Volumes ONTAP success story is a global clothing retailer headquartered in San Francisco. This company maintains five distinct brands of clothing with 3,300 outlets in more than 90 countries worldwide. Their business challenges were adopting a cloud migration strategy to support their brands’ online business which meant finding a way to effectively carry out the cloud migration process and store massive amounts of video and images to the cloud. Cloud Volumes ONTAP for Azure gave them the flexibility their Azure migration strategy required.

Read more Azure cloud migration success stories here.

Google Cloud

One customer that leveraged Cloud Volumes ONTAP to make their Google Cloud migration a success was a Fortune-500 ranked global healthcare services and products company. Headquartered in the UK, the company has 50,000 employees serving hospitals, pharmacies, physicians, labs, and health systems worldwide.

The company’s move to Google Cloud came as part of a shift to a cloud-first strategy. The goal was to migrate the entirety of the company’s legacy systems to the public cloud. The key to this migration would be a migration platform that could easily transfer data between the existing on-premises data centers and the cloud. Not only was data moving to Google Cloud, but also AWS, so the platform would also need to enable a seamless multicloud experience.

The platform the company chose was Cloud Volumes ONTAP, moving the data to Google Cloud while providing multicloud ease of use, multiprotocol file sharing, and persistent data storage for Kubernetes clusters.

Read more Google Cloud migration success stories here.

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More to Learn About Cloud Migration


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Cloud Migration Approach: Rehost, Refactor or Replatform?

Cloud migration is the process of moving some or all your digital workloads to the cloud. Before migrating to the cloud, you have to recognize your requirements, assess cloud solutions and options, make an inventory of your existing resources, identify the current level of skills and select an architecture for your new cloud infrastructure.

There are several tried and tested approaches for migrating application workloads to the cloud. The strategies were originally defined in the Gartner “5 Rs” model in 2011. They are: Lift and shift, Refactor, Replatform, Rebuild, Replace.

Read more: Cloud Migration Approach: Rehost, Refactor or Replatform?

Cloud Migration Tools: Transferring Your Data with Ease

A good cloud migration strategy requires the use of cloud migrations tools that make it easier to automate and streamline moving data from the existing storage system to the cloud. The major cloud providers have an array of such cloud migration tools available, and there are even more to choose from third-party vendors. Which is right for your data? In this post we look at some of the native cloud migration tools and others, including NetApp’s SnapMirror and Cloud Sync service which can get data to the cloud for use with Cloud Volumes ONTAP.

Read more in Cloud Migration Tools: Transferring Your Data with Ease.

Cloud Data Integration 101: Benefits, Challenges, and Tools

The cloud offers a more flexible way for enterprises to deploy IT, and they are taking full advantage of that fact: Gartner recently reported that as much as 81% of the companies that are in the public cloud are using more than one service provider. There are many reasons why cloud migration strategy would call for these kinds of multicloud and hybrid approaches, but it creates a new challenge in the form of cloud data integration. With data dispersed over so many closed off repositories, how can users make sure cloud data integration is possible, keeping all of the data synced and shared across the disparate environments? In this post, we’ll discuss cloud data integration in such deployments and how NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help keep things in check.

Read more in Cloud Data Integration 101: Benefits, Challenges, and Tools.

Cloud Roadmap: Mapping Out Your Path to the Cloud

A cloud strategy roadmap is a visual communication tool that describes how your organization will migrate to the cloud. Learn about the importance of a cloud roadmap in migration projects, questions you should ask when building your roadmap, and the five key sections of a cloud roadmap.

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Top 3 Cloud Adoption Frameworks: Your Path To The Cloud

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Read more: Top 3 Cloud Adoption Frameworks: Your Path To The Cloud

Cloud Application Migration: A Practical Guide

Cloud migration helps organizations leverage the benefits of the cloud for their applications, including cost reduction, a higher level of scalability, and quick application updates. Learn about cloud application migration options, common challenges, the application migration process, and managed solutions that can help you migrate to the cloud.

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Why Cloud Adoption Fails and 6 Tips for Success

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Cloud First Strategy: Challenges, Considerations & Practices

White House CIO Vivek Kundra coined the term “cloud-first”, referring to the practice of preferring the cloud as a first option for building programs and applications. Learn how a cloud first strategy can benefit your organization, what challenges you can expect, and critical best practices for implementing cloud first.

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Read more: What's New in K8S 1.23?

See Our Additional Guides on Key IaaS Topics

We have authored in-depth guides on several other topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of IaaS.

AWS Migration

Learn about Amazon’s basic framework for migration, and how to plan for common challenges that affect almost every migration project.

See top articles in our AWS migration guide:


Learn what is AWS EBS and how to perform common EBS operations. Including five highly useful EBS features that can help you optimize performance and billing. 

See top articles in our guide to AWS EBS:


Learn about AWS EFS, your backup options, how to optimize performance, see a brief comparison of EFS vs EBS vs S3, and discover how Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help.

See top articles in our guide to AWS EFS:

Azure Migration

Learn about aspects of considerations when implementing Azure migration: migration models, state assessment, storage configuration, security, and maintenance. 

See top articles in our Azure migration guide:

Azure Cost Management

Learn about tools and practices that can help you manage and optimize costs on the Microsoft Azure cloud.

See top articles in our Azure cost management:

AWS Cost Optimization

Learn how AWS cost optimization works, free Amazon tools that can help manage costs, and best practices for reducing your cloud bill.

See top articles in our AWS cost optimization guide:

AWS High Availability

Discover how high available systems are reliable and resilient and see how AWS can help you achieve high availability for cloud workloads, across 3 dimensions.

See top articles in our AWS high availability guide:

Azure High Availability

High availability is one of the major benefits of cloud services. The guarantee that your data will remain accessible is critical to supporting high priority workloads and applications and is the reason many move to the cloud in the first place.

This guide explains what high availability is and how to optimize Azure high availability.

See top articles in our Azure high availability guide:

Linux on Azure

Learn how to use Linux on Azure, including guides for cloud-based enterprise Linux deployments and performance tips.

See top articles in our guide to Linux on Azure:

HPC on Azure

Discover services and techniques for cloud-based HPC, including unique Azure HPC features and use cases. 

See top articles in our guide to HPC on Azure:

SAP on Azure

Learn about all SAP solutions offered as a service on Azure, including HANA, S/4HANA, NetWeaver and Hybris, migration considerations and best practices.

See top articles in our guide to SAP on Azure:

VDI on Azure

Learn what options are available for VDI on Azure. Understand how the architecture works and discover best practices for VDI deployments.

See top articles in our guide to VDI on Azure:

AWS Big Data

Learn about the tools AWS provides for building big data infrastructure, including data lakes and big data analytics systems.

See top articles in our guide on AWS Big Data:

Google Cloud Migration

Learn how to migrate your workloads and data to Google Cloud, including in-depth comparisons between GCP and other cloud providers, tools, strategies, costs, and more.

See top articles in our guide on Google Cloud migration:

Yifat Perry, Product Evangelist

Product Evangelist