How to choose the right strategy for a data migration

By Brad Rosairo

Anyone who has moved a household knows that without preparation and planning, it can be a chaotic experience. There are different considerations when moving regarding what to keep, how to pack your various possessions, how to prioritise what to move, and how to protect your valuables.

A good moving company understands that the move itself isn’t the most important part of the operation. The company is judged by how efficiently and safely every possession and piece of furniture arrives at its destination.

Moving can be a useful metaphor to understand data migration, as not every data migration is the same. However, every migration requires careful strategy, thoughtful planning, a detailed migration checklist, and communication throughout. Below, we explore the reasons that companies undertake a migration, how companies prepare for the move, and look at three common migration strategies.

Reasons to migrate data

Companies have various reasons for migrating data, which may require different migration strategies. Common reasons for a migration include:

  • Moving to the cloud – Cloud adoption has risen over the last decade and cloud migrations have accelerated in the past year, in large part because of the need to support secure remote work during the pandemic.
  • Mergers and acquisitions – M&A activity has accelerated, with high-stakes migrations usually capping off a fairly intense IT project, as merging companies consolidate data. These migrations need to be planned carefully to assure a positive experience as the companies combine.
  • Consolidating or decoupling systems – As organisations evolve, they may find it necessary to combine or segregate data for IT management purposes. This could be based on region or subsidiary, for example.
  • Moving to a new platform – The large number of companies adopting Microsoft Teams has resulted in migrations to take advantage of Teams’ robust collaboration offerings.
  • Saving money – As IT organisations look for ways to contribute to the bottom line, many find opportunities to lower expenses by shifting to new platforms. For example, BitTitan is seeing more companies move from GoDaddy to Microsoft 365 as a cost-saving move.
  • Improving security – This year’s news about bad actors exploiting on-premises Exchange vulnerabilities has renewed the urgency to migrate from on-prem to more secure cloud environments such as Exchange Online.


In each scenario, organisations must consider data-handling strategies to inform the ideal migration options they should pursue.

Preparing data for the move

The concept of performing a data migration may seem basic: Gather everything from point A and move it to point B. But this is like calling a moving company, opening the door to your house, and telling them to move everything. The moving company will move literally everything, including the contents of wastepaper baskets.

Instances where an organisation wants to move everything is a lift-and-shift migration, where data is moved with little or no changes. This kind of migration may be the only viable strategy when there’s limited time or when the workload is relatively small. But it can create complications on the backend. And, just as a moving company will charge for the weight and volume of all items packed in their truck, a lift-and-shift migration may bring unnecessary costs regarding unneeded data.

Let’s return to the household that needs to be moved. With some time and planning, the family can determine what they need and eliminate what they don’t. They can plan a yard sale, make donations, and take trips to the dump. 

When everything arrives in their new home, unpacking is easier, and they don’t have to find storage space for things they don’t need.

In data migration terms, this is a clean-and-shift migration strategy. It has long been considered best practice because it results in a cleaner, more efficient migration, as well as potentially lower data storage costs. It also leads to a more organized environment that lets users be more productive because they have better access to their data.

Automated solutions can help improve migration planning. IT teams are starting to use Voleer assessments from BitTitan in the planning phases of a migration, allowing them to identify content that can be archived or purged. This content is sometimes called ROT, short for redundant, obsolete, or trivial content.

Once ROT content is identified, IT can work with application or database owners to decide how to dispose of it. In some cases, ROT can be a liability if the company is storing compliance documents for longer than required by law.

Migration strategies to consider

In planning a migration and deciding which workloads to move, there are different strategies to consider. These common strategies entail different migration workflows:

Single-pass migration – This involves moving everything at once, usually over a weekend. Keep in mind that a single-pass migration doesn’t mean everything moves. In fact, a well-organised clean-up prior to migration will streamline the project.

Benefits of a single-pass strategy are its cost-effectiveness and simplicity. Potential drawbacks include the inability to test workloads prior to cutover and the possibility that not all data will be available when work resumes. This strategy is not recommended for large or complex migrations.

Pre-stage migration – This is a multi-pass migration strategy in which most data is moved before cutover. Often, older items and archives are moved in advance of a cutover weekend when more recent data is then brought over. This lets users be productive immediately when they return to work.

Pre-stage migrations are recommended for larger and more complex projects, and they require advance planning to assure success.

Quick-switch migration – With the quick-switch strategy, recent data is moved first and archives follow later. This is a way to speed a migration and get users onto their new system quickly with their most important data. When executing a quick switch, it’s important to remind users that not all their data will be available at cutover time.  There’s a lot to think about when the need arises to execute a migration. In fact, the migration itself often comes at the tail end of the strategy, pre-work, and preparation stages. However, two ingredients are key to any successful migration: planning and communications.

Careful planning makes a difference in multiple ways. It helps increase efficiency and decrease the risk of failure. Even a partial failure will affect end users who rely on access to systems and data for productivity.

Effective planning can also help to reduce costs and optimize data storage. It will also save time on backend clean-up.

Communication throughout a migration project is equally important. Maintaining open connections across the project team regarding the movement of data and applications will enable owners to make sure nothing is missed.

Also, make sure users understand their roles and know what to expect before, during, and after the migration. When all goes well behind the scenes, it may look like nothing big is happening – and that’s the way it should be.

Brad Rosairo is BitTitan’s director of business development in the Asia Pacific. BitTitan MigrationWiz offers an extensive knowledge base, including detailed guides, videos and webinars. Voleer assessments provide insights before, during, and after the migration.