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Lift and shift vs. re-platforming cloud apps

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When to adopt the lift-and-shift cloud migration model

The lift-and-shift approach is a common cloud migration option, replicating in-house apps in the cloud without re-design. But is it right for you?

Organizations that move to the cloud do so to capitalize on its benefits, such as scalability, agility and, most...

notably, cost-efficiency. But cloud migrations can be laborious, as many in-house applications require re-design before a move to the cloud. And while the goals are ultimately the same, there are multiple ways to prepare your applications for a cloud migration, including re-architecture and the lift-and-shift approach.

Re-architecting apps can be costly and time consuming, so some organizations prefer the lift-and-shift approach, which allows enterprises to take an in-house app and replicate it in the cloud without modifying its design. However, because applications that are lifted and shifted to the cloud can't take full advantage of native cloud features, it's not always the most cost-efficient migration approach.

That said, the lift-and-shift model still has its time and place. It's a good option, for example, for organizations that are "bleeding costs" from maintaining their own physical infrastructures, said Gregory Ness, VP of worldwide marketing at CloudVelox, a cloud migration platform vendor based in Santa Clara, Calif.

"If your investment in a data center is costing you today twice as much as the cloud, why wait?" Ness said. Some CloudVelox customers will lift-and-shift an application to reduce on-premises infrastructure costs in the short term, and then re-architect the app after it's in the cloud, he said.

The lift-and-shift model is also a solid choice for cloud disaster recovery, said Jonathan Feldman, CIO for the city of Asheville, N.C., who is also a CloudVelox customer.

"If you have apps that just need to keep going, rip and lift can be very good for that," Feldman said. "And that's why we're using it for disaster recovery of systems that are just not going to get re-architected right now."

Not all apps are created equal

When deciding which applications to lift-and-shift or re-architect for the cloud, there are a few criteria to consider. For example, resource-intensive applications, such as those used for big data analysis and image rendering, are better candidates for re-architecting than lift-and-shift, said David Linthicum, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based consulting firm.

"You are going to find that [these apps] are almost always going to generate an unusually high cloud bill, so therefore redesign is in order to utilize those resources better," he said.

These resource-intensive apps can also suffer from performance and latency issues if they aren't re-architected first, said Alex Witherspoon, senior DevOps and software engineer at FlightStats, a Portland, Ore.-based company providing global flight data. "Every [application] dependency, especially over the network -- the multiplying effect of having that latency can really be a problem."

Applications that lend themselves well to the lift-and-shift model have "very easily defined patterns," such as those for risk analytics, Linthicum said.

Meanwhile, enterprises must adopt a lift-and-shift approach for commercial or off-the-shelf applications, simply because they can't re-architect that software, said Robert Green, principal consultant at Enfinitum Inc., a San Antonio-based consulting firm. That capability, instead, lies only with the application vendor itself.

"You are really limited to what the ISV has done with regards to defining the architecture of their application," Green said.

Organizations should strive to embrace a DevOps or agile software development model to reduce the burden -- and price tag -- of re-architecting, Green said. Because agile development environments increase the speed at which organizations develop and modify their applications, they can also boost a business' revenue -- sometimes by as much as 30 percent, he said.

"You have a net gain," Green said.  "And that will help you justify the refactoring costs."

Kristin Knapp is site editor for SearchCloudComputing. Contact her at or follow @kknapp86 on Twitter.

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This was last published in July 2015

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