Internationally he is considered an industry expert on datacentre migrations, and has developed a unique set of tools and processes from practical experience. At Xceed, Simon Johnson runs the migration practice, with Xceed's mX - Migration Accelerator platform, specialising in datacentre and desktop migrations.
Simon Johnson has been quoted as saying "IT migrations are some of the most complicated events an organisation will face" and yet he is also seeing so many organisations taking it on.
Techradar Pro: If IT migrations are problematic, why is it that organisations do them at all?
Simon Johnson: Technology changes daily and the best solution to a problem is rarely in the past. The demands & opportunities of the mobile-cloud era, or as Gartner prefers the Third Era of IT, mean that legacy systems and infrastructure have to be updated to continue to support business needs.
It is not so much a choice as a necessity to be able to provide the best services to internal and external customers in a cost effective way. Whether migrating to embrace technology advancements, or migrating to control costs, they will always be complicated events, but the benefits are significant and migrating is worth the short term pain.
TRP: How much do you think costs play a part in this, when considered against technology and performance?
SJ: Cost will always be an important factor and is directly linked to technology and performance. The opportunities presented by new technologies mean companies can achieve two things – they can increase efficiency and drive down the cost of 'BAU' services. However, they can also increase revenue and sales through providing smarter services to customers, bringing products to market faster across multiple devices and geographies.
TRP: Gartner research has recently reported that 70 per cent of datacentre migrations will incur significant time delays or cause unplanned downtime, what do you think the main cause for this is?
SJ: I read that paper with interest and they point to one of the main reasons – the planning stage. We've also found that a little more time spent up front defining the scope and how to communicate strategy and change to the business results in a faster, smoother and most importantly more successful programme overall.
TRP: What role do legacy applications sitting in the datacentre play?
SJ: Legacy applications are one of the prime reasons that businesses struggle with datacentre migrations. Legacy applications and the infrastructure they sit on can be many years old and the knowledge about how they are configured walks out the door when employees leave.
During datacentre migrations, limited knowledge of the legacy estate can slow the migration process as SME's get caught up defining how to move the more modern estate and not enough time planning the legacy migration.
TRP: What are the three biggest concerns that your clients have highlighted when it comes to datacentre migrations?
SJ: Communication, discovering configuration items and planning. Poor communication between the business and the project team results in limited buy in from the BAU team. If people feel that they are being included in the migration process and that their concerns are addressed, they are much more likely to embrace change and play active roles.
As a result of better communication, an easier and more accurate discovery programme can be achieved. Automated discovery tools are great at getting information about the well-known and the easy to reach items. Knowledge that is stored in employees heads and privately held spreadsheets is often the most important as it answers the questions about the complicated legacy equipment.
Ensuring that all information sources are combined effectively is one of the best ways to improve migration results, as is meticulous planning. Adapting to business as usual change and cascading the results into the project plan are important to ensure migration success. Clients often mention that the project team cannot adapt quickly enough to the day to day activities and as a result they can find themselves working with out of date information.
TRP: What type of migrations are the most common or complex?
SJ: Most common are those resulting from mergers or acquisitions where companies want to rationalise their infrastructure footprint by closing premises. Interestingly these are often the most complex as they often require technical changes to be made as part of a migration, so that the company being acquired ends up in the right technical infrastructure environment. Making significant changes to the technical infrastructure adds a risk to success of the migration process.
Complex migrations are often characterised by latency impact – moving a datacentre which is located close to the user community to far away, resulting in poor end-user experience which requires resolution.
TRP: Which organisations typically have the biggest migration challenges?
SJ: Organisations that have a significant amount of technical debt and / or lack of investment to maintain their systems to a reasonably current level usually have the biggest challenge. This is because the systems may have application versions which are no longer supportable, or which do not run on more recent versions of operating systems.
Those which have a great number of interdependencies between systems are challenged as there is a need to balance the logical migration group with the size of infrastructure to move at once. Finally those where the risk appetite of the organisation is low and the available budget for the migration is below what is needed to support a low-risk approach.
TRP: For all of those IT leaders reading who are about to commence a datacentre migration what piece of advice would you give?
SJ: I'd go back to the planning stage being the most important success factor. I'd advise them to work with a combination of internal experts and external datacentre migration specialists.
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Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.