This content is part of the Essential Guide: A CIO's guide to enterprise cloud migration

Cloud migration tools help IT usher in multi-cloud era

Migrating workloads between clouds can be an expensive and tedious process. IT can alleviate that burden, however, with the right automation tools.

Migrating workloads from one cloud provider to another can be a major IT headache. In addition to requiring significant manual work, these cloud-to-cloud migrations quickly eat into IT's time and budget.

And, as more organizations gravitate toward a hybrid or multi-cloud model, these arduous, cross-cloud migrations may start to top enterprises' to-do lists.

Luckily, cloud migration tools and other services can offer relief.

There are several reasons an enterprise might migrate from one cloud provider to another. Saving money, however, tends to be the biggest, according to Christopher Wilder, practice lead and senior analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, an analyst firm based in Austin, Texas.

"The most obvious [reasons] are cost or value -- the economic decision factors," Wilder said.

Secondly, many organizations enable workload portability across clouds for disaster recovery purposes, Wilder added. If their primary cloud provider experiences an outage, they can failover to the second one.

Lastly, the market is moving toward an increasingly hybrid and multi-cloud world. More than 65% of enterprise IT organizations will commit to hybrid cloud technologies before 2016, according to analyst firm IDC. At the same time, many organizations are embracing or looking to improve their "multi-vendor" sourcing strategies.

As a result, some enterprises aren't simply moving workloads out of one cloud to place them in another; they want to add additional cloud providers and platforms into the mix. 

Paying the price for cloud migrations

Migrating workloads between clouds – regardless of whether the aim is to abandon one provider for another, or to pursue a multi-cloud strategy – isn't done with the flip of a switch. In fact, cloud-to-cloud migrations can be a lot more complicated than organizations expect. It's a move that demands a laundry-list of tasks, not the least of which is migrating VMs, along with their associated networking and storage configurations, applications and operating systems.

"You can't just package your instance up and send it over to somebody," Wilder said. "It becomes a very detailed project that requires some level of individual architecture for each provider."

Workload migration is also a highly manually process that leaves plenty of room for human error, said Michael Ritchken, principal consultant of cloud services at Dimension Data, a global systems integrator and IT consultancy.

"The use of different hypervisors on different cloud platforms, and possible application delivery disruption when deploying agents on servers to facilitate migrations, all contribute to the difficulty of migration execution," Ritchken said.

When it comes to migrating workloads out of Amazon Web Services (AWS), these challenges can be exacerbated, according to Mark Shirman, president and CEO of RiverMeadow Software, Inc., a San Jose, Calif.-based cloud software provider and an AWS customer.

Because Amazon offers a rich toolset and has fostered such a broad ecosystem of services, its customers' workloads tend to be more sophisticated and complex. As a result, moving them out of AWS and onto another platform can be tedious, according to Shirman, whose company sells cloud migration automation software.

"The more of those [AWS services and tools] you add, the more complicated it is to get those workloads out of there, because the corresponding cloud may not have those [capabilities]," Shirman said.

Cloud-to-cloud migrations, regardless of provider, can be just as expensive as they are challenging. Between upfront migration costs and bandwidth and licensing fees, the price tag on migrations can be steep. Worse yet, according to Wilder, many organizations aren't expecting it.

"Most companies egregiously underestimate the cost of moving from one cloud provider to another," Wilder said. "There are a lot of upfront costs that go into that, and they underestimate the amount of data that is going to be migrated."

Automation helps relieve migration headaches

Migrating application servers from one cloud to another, on average, costs an organization roughly $3,000 per server, according to Shirman. RiverMeadow claims its tool, which is purchased as a subscription, slashes that cost to roughly $300 a server by automating the VM conversion, transport and reconfiguration process that is otherwise performed manually.

Automation software also shaves a significant amount of time off the migration process, according to Ritchken, who said Dimension Data uses RiverMeadow's software as a service (SaaS) tool to help its own customers with migrations. On average, Ritchken said, it takes about 30 minutes to deploy a software agent on a server. So, if a customer moves 100 servers to the cloud, it takes roughly 50 hours of manual work -- and that's only for setup.

With traditional migration methods, it could take as many as 17 days to move those 100 workloads, Ritchken estimated. With an automation tool, that could be reduced to as little as three days.

"Through automation of the migration process, the effort associated with migrations can be dramatically reduced and human error eliminated," he said.

RiverMeadow sells its SaaS migration tool through OEM partners, including HP, Cisco and VMware, who white-label and use the tool to help their end customers through the cloud onboarding and migration process, Shirman said. The company also offers its tool through integrators and service providers like Dimension Data.

Other vendors, including Rackspace and Racemi, also offer tools and services intended to streamline and reduce the costs of cloud-to-cloud migrations. By offering application portability, Docker containers can also help. But, overall, the migration automation market is still in its early days, Wilder said.

"There are a lot of tools out there to help you migrate smoothly," he said. "But there's not a lot of automation in the industry right now."

In addition to cloud migration tools, Wilder suggested organizations work with cloud brokers, or third parties who act as intermediaries between cloud users and providers, when migrating workloads between clouds. 

Kristin Knapp is the site editor for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach her at [email protected].

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