Why Migrating a Database to the Cloud is Like a Heart Transplant

Migrating your organization's on-premises database to a native-cloud database is fraught with challenges and potential benefits. Here are recommendations to ensure this ‘heart transplant’ doesn't fail.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor

August 26, 2022

4 Min Read
Surgeons Perform Heart Surgery Using Augmented Reality Technology.
Aleskei Gorodenkov

Over the past few years, plenty of organizations have increased their footprint in the cloud and looked to otherwise modernize their IT infrastructure, accelerated by the catalyst of COVID impacts. But migrating databases from an on-premises implementation to a native-cloud implementation can pose a number of challenges that could stall organizations from pulling the trigger on such a move. However, today’s era of cloud and infrastructure modernization is piling on the pressure to complete these migrations now more than ever.

If your organization is preparing for such a project, there are many factors to consider and much planning required.

“Migrating a database is like doing a heart transplant,” said Ramke Ramakrishnan, a senior director analyst at Gartner, during his presentation at the Gartner Data and Analytics Summit in Orlando this week. Databases are connected to so many applications, and they are likely running the lifeblood of the organization through them every day.

The Trouble with Database Migration

For the uninitiated, the database migration project may seem simple. After all, you are just migrating database objects from one database to another. Vendors provide migration tools to allow you to complete the work with a few clicks.

But when you start doing your due diligence on the project, you will see what it really entails, according to Ramakrishnan. One of the biggest changes will be with SQL semantics that are so familiar to the users of traditional databases, like Oracle or SQL. There are complex triggers, packages, and procedures.

“When you look at the similar migration in the cloud, many of the databases don’t support the robust SQL packages you may have,” Ramakrishnan said. Instead, you may need to use Javascripts or Spark-based processes.

“It’s really like a heart transplant because you have to look into each piece,” he said.

Another reason why you may not want to follow a “lift and shift” strategy for database migration from on-premises to the cloud is because the cloud provides data storage alternatives you may not have had available to you in your traditional database.

“You tried to solve everything in one database,” he said. But in the cloud you could spread the data into multiple data stores, for instance, such as object store or relational store or noSQL store or graph store.

Also, you may not want to migrate everything, Ramakrishnan said, noting that the database migration and modernization process can be an opportunity to apply something like the Marie Kondo method of tidying up by eliminating all the objects that don’t “spark joy.” Maybe you don’t need to migrate all the data. Migration may be an opportunity to start fresh.

Planning is Key

The key to navigating all these potential challenges to your database migration process is to plan for them. Your migration project’s enemies are surprises. There are numerous differences between databases from number conversions to date/time handling, to language interfaces, to missing constructs, to rollback behavior, and many others. Proper planning will look at all the technical differences and plan for them.

Database migration projects also require time and effort, according to Ramakrishnan, and if they are rushed the results will not be what anyone wants. He recommended that project leaders create a single-page cheat sheet to break down the scope and complexity of the migration to help energize the team. It should include the project’s goals, the number of users impacted, the reports that will be affected by the change, the number of apps it touches, and more.

Before embarking on the project, organizations should ask the following question: “How much will it cost to recoup the investment in the new database migration?”

Organizations need to check that the economics are sound, and that means also analyzing the opportunity cost for not completing the migration.

Recommendations for Success

Ramakrishnan offered several recommendations to help organizations avoid failure and achieve success with their database migration projects. First is the business case – organizations must understand the reasons they are doing the migration so that they can meet their goals.

Next, they must assess all the technical aspects of the migration project realistically. Third, they need to plan every aspect of the migration and identify potential hurdles. Ramakrishnan also recommends using a phased approach because it helps you learn from each iteration of the project. IT leaders should not allow themselves to feel pressured into doing an inadequate job because of other factors. In addition, they should avoid a “lift and shift” approach, especially if they are moving to a different platform.

“Hope and enthusiasm are not alternatives to planning,” Ramakrishnan said.

What to Read Next:

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Living in the Cloud Can Be Like Settling Into a New Home

Cloud Without Modernization Is an Antipattern

About the Author(s)

Jessica Davis

Senior Editor

Jessica Davis is a Senior Editor at InformationWeek. She covers enterprise IT leadership, careers, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and enterprise software. She has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology. Follow her on twitter: @jessicadavis.

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