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Data Migration: Handle With Care

When it comes to enterprise technology, “out with the old and in with the new” is easier said than done. Any time a company decides to update its software, operating systems, servers, storage methods or platforms, legacy data must be moved. Data migration also becomes necessary during mergers or acquisitions. There are a host of important considerations, including costs, legal compliance, retention and accessibility that come with migrating or consolidating data. The end goal of a data migration may include consolidating systems, creating easier or faster backups, increased functionality, refreshed hardware and/or increased continuity of support services.

Data exists in numerous formats, and consequently, data migration can refer to any number of types of transitions. It could involve moving data from older to newer storage media, such as upgrading antiquated 9-track tapes or DLTs to the newer LTO-4 or LTO-5 tapes. It could also involve moving content from a document repository or archive into a new platform, such as Microsoft Sharepoint, transitioning data to a hosted storage platform, or switching to a newer version of an application. An organization may decide to upgrade to a more recent version of Microsoft Exchange, or perhaps consolidate multiple Exchange Information Stores. Consolidating data may serve the purpose of realigning data on a centralized server and may also include reducing redundancies (i.e. de-duplication).

Regardless of the type of migration, taking steps to adequately prepare for such an event can cut costs and improve effectiveness so the company can stay within budget, maintain data quality and integrity, satisfy compliance requirements and prevent business disruption due to failed data migration efforts. In many organizations, however, data migration is handled reactively rather than proactively. Planning for the inevitable is important to prevent the risk associated with ad hoc decisions when the time for transition comes. Creating and implementing a structured, repeatable and rigorous approach is therefore the best way to prepare for data migration – an event as inescapable as the next technology upgrade.

What exactly goes into advance planning for data migration? Establishing a fund now to provide an organization with more options later and anticipating challenges are two important strategies for effective planning. The ease of the project will depend on factors such as the complexity and number of sources from which data is to be migrated, the volume of data, timing requirements as dictated by business needs and the quality of the data or media itself. During planning, the organization should also analyze all aspects of the problem in order to increase the likelihood of success.

Another consideration is the process itself. Data migration is usually not merely a matter of moving files from one storage media to another. In addition to physically relocating the data from one media to another (e.g. from tape or disk to thumb drive or CD), the end result must also be made accessible and useable. For example, data written in EBCDIC (Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code) format must be converted to ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Exchange) so it will be readable. Old databases must be reformatted to fit the new database so the data will be useable. While many large enterprises have both the technical and financial resources and wherewithal to achieve effective data migrations in-house, many can also benefit from relying on outside expertise to handle data migrations.

In any migration or consolidation attempt, there are potential difficulties. For example, physical damage to the media itself may mean the data is actually flaking off and becoming unusable; alternately, previous migration attempts may have been incomplete where old backups were never validated. Files or systems may be corrupted, access may be restricted or the migration may include redundant information that has been backed up numerous times in multiple places.

Experts possess the resources, tools, training and methods to overcome most challenges to successful migrations, avoid the risks and failures common to do-it-yourself approaches and, of critical importance, preserve the security and integrity of the data. They can also work with the organization to create the least amount of business interruption possible. For example, during an Exchange migration, they can enable client connectivity, continuity and communication flow even during the migration process.

Furthermore, by partnering with an expert with broad service offerings, an organization can reap the benefit of optimizing the continuity – and thus reducing costs – of all of its data processes. For instance, culling down massive, redundant data stores to one unique data set through the process of de-duplication decreases the overall data volume (and costs) and results in a litigation-ready, searchable data set that will be faster and less expensive to review if and when the need arises.

Finally, upgrading to new systems and software provides a natural opportunity to manage the lifecycle of information. In doing so, the company must be careful to strike an appropriate balance between over and under retention. Continued accessibility of the data must be ensured for business purposes, regulatory compliance and legal holds, and security risks must be mitigated to protect information assets. At the same time, over-retention may unnecessarily consume budgets, heighten risks during e-discovery and raise the cost of an investigation, litigation or merger and acquisition. In order to arrive at the correct balance, the advice of a data expert as well as business subject matter experts, legal and IT can help establish which and for how long data must be retained, as well as the best methods for maintaining the necessary data in an accessible, effective and useable format.


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