Cloud migration risks: 5 reasons why cloud migrations fail

Functionality, scalability, cost-effectiveness: the cloud promises a lot of great things.

But taking advantage of everything the cloud offers isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Sure, there’s less to manage since all the important stuff sits at the vendor’s end. But cloud services still need to be implemented, and any existing infrastructure and data need to be migrated. 

The fact is, cloud migrations can go awry just like any other project, meaning there’s a range of cloud migration risks you need to be aware of before you get started. Unfortunately, no one can see into the future—unless you happen to have Doctor Strange on your cloud implementation team, that is—so some migration hiccups will simply be unavoidable.  

Of the organizations surveyed in the Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition, a significant 43% experienced a delay on their scheduled AWS go-live date. These delays can be significant, too with the vast majority of organizations experiencing a delay between 1-3 months. 

  • Less than 1 month: 3% 
  • 1-3 months: 41% 
  • 4-6 months: 25% 
  • 7-9 months: 6% 
  • 10-12 months: 16% 
  • 12+ months: 9% 

That said, with enough planning you should be able to put your business in a good position to mitigate any cloud migration risks you may face. It helps to learn from the mistakes of others, so you can avoid the same pitfalls.  

But what is the risk in migrating to the cloud? What are the most common reasons why cloud migrations fail? And, most importantly of allhow can you avoid these risks when implementing your own cloud migration strategy? 

Lack of planning

Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 

During a project as huge as cloud migration, there’s a chance you’ll have to amend or revamp some of your implementation plan as you go along. Of course, that’s a lot easier to do if you actually have one in place. 

When you’re trying to get from A to B, things tend to go a lot smoother if you lay down the tracks first. Trying to execute a migration without an exhaustive plan of action creates a cloud migration risk in itself; making things up as you go along is not conducive to executing a successful tech project. 

One of the most common causes behind cloud migration failure is a lack of planning. In fact, this was the most common reason cited in the aforementioned Careers and Hiring Guide, with 59% of those who reported a delay in their AWS go-live identifying that this was due to poor planning prior to migration.  

Migrations that start without a clearly defined, well-researched, and coherent strategy are doomed to fail, so take a leaf out of Honest Abe’s book. 

The first step in creating a robust and functional plan that mitigates cloud migration risks is to examine your current infrastructure. 

Look at how you work now and consider what parts of your infrastructure you’ll take to the cloud. Be thorough—missing dependencies at this stage can cause havoc during migration. Think about whether any parts of your infrastructure will need to be integrated with other services, too—71% of AWS customers in our Careers and Hiring Guide integrated their AWS product with a non-AWS product.  

Make a note of your current KPIs—page load time, CPU usage, memory used percentage, for example—and plot targets for improvement post-migration. 

Create a reasonable timeline for migration to take place, then add in significant buffer time to account for any deviations or roadblocks. Consider how apps will be migrated and whether they’ll need to be rearchitected. 

Too many budding cloud users go into a migration believing it’s as simple as dragging an app from their in-house servers and ‘dropping’ it into the cloud. Elemi Atigolo, Founder and Director at Buildly, advises a thorough evaluation on an app-by-app basis to avoid over-subscribing to your new cloud philosophy. 

“Some existing applications may need to be rebuilt in order to take advantage of cloud features,” says Atigolo. “However, rearchitecting isn’t always necessary, or even advisable, to gain those advantages.” 

“Critically evaluating the options for the whole business, to ensure you identify which applications will require adapting or rebuilding, makes sense.” 

And the timing of when you make these assessments is just as important as how meticulously you go about them, according to Atigolo. “The planning and strategy stage is where this decision should take place and not during implementation.” 

Selecting the wrong migration approach

Another common mishap posing an important cloud migration risk comes when businesses select the wrong approach. 

Migration is actually something of an umbrella term. There’s more than one path to the same result, but businesses often don’t ‘shop around’ enough to make sure they find a method that fits the bill. 

The lift and shift approach, app modernization and refactoring, and re-platforming are all popular methods of shifting your processes to the cloud, and each has its place within the migration strategy. 

Many businesses opt for the lift and shift approach, since it tends to be the fastest and least disruptive model (at least in theory). Involving porting an application or operation over from one environment to another without redesigning or restructuring, it tends to be a fairly cheap option for migration. However, it’s not without its drawbacks. 

Since you’re moving an app to its new cloud-based home ‘as is’, any existing issues or quirks will come with it. That means shifting any bugs you had on-premises to your new environment, where they could wreak havoc with your implementation. Cloud maintenance is a little more detached than traditional on-premises upkeep, and involves more shared responsibilities between your business and your cloud vendor. 

The temptation to lift and shift is something Mike Wood, Product Manager at AWS Advanced Technology Partner SentryOne , has seen cloud users succumb to time and again. 

“A lot of companies will jump on the lift and shift approach to migrating because it seems like the easy answer,” Mike says. “Lift and shift has the potential to be quick, but it’s not always the best route to take.” 

“There’s usually little-to-no code changes, and so it looks like it’s the cheapest way to go; however, they don’t do the due diligence to look at what their operational costs will be after the migration. Many applications originally designed to run on-premises aren’t able to take advantage of platform level cloud services, and this can lead to needing to deploy and maintain additional resources that a cloud-native application may not need. 

“Special consideration should also be taken in how the application handles being in a cloud environment for things like retries on transient communication failures, or failovers of underlying host hardware.” 

So, before you launch into your cloud migration, make sure you explore all of your options and work out which one works best for your particular apps, timescale, and long-term needs. 

Going too big, too soon

Cloud migration can pose risks not only because of how you decide to make the move, but also what you choose to shift to the cloud. 

Though vendors have worked hard to make the switch to cloud computing as seamless as possible, migration is still a huge undertaking, requiring a lot of time, effort, and re-educating your staff at every level. In our latest Careers and Hiring Guide, 18% of organizations that experienced go-live delays reported delays in training staff as a contributing factor, while 34% of organizations cited their business being unprepared as one of the top implementation challenges.  

With that in mind, it’s not always the best option to go from zero to cloud in one fell swoop. 

Often, businesses can get swept up by the transformative promise of the cloud, taking an across-the-board approach to migration. The reality is that not everything has to be moved at once, or even at all.  

Some workloads just aren’t a good fit, or they’re incredibly tricky to migrate. 

According to Elemi Atigolo, it’s important to keep in mind that not every app, and not every part of your infrastructure, is necessarily a candidate for migration: “Migration solutions can be high risk,” he says, “and can take years to complete depending on the size and complexity of the architecture. 

“Rearchitecting of apps and programs opens an organization up to the risk of failure if one of the lines of code is written incorrectly.” 

“The first question that needs to be asked is whether your organization has a sound business use case for cloud migration. Cloud migration should only be considered where clear tangible benefits can be identified for your business.” 

In other words, kick your migration planning off by analyzing your current usage and determining which applications are worth reallocating and which function best on-premises. It’s just as crucial to decide what you’re not going to do as what you are. 

This giddy, impulsive rush to the cloud is something that Lior Cohen, Senior Director of Product and Solutions for Cloud Security at Fortinet, has seen businesses fall foul of again and again. 

“Typically, cloud migrations fail as customers rush into moving multiple applications into the cloud without addressing the key differences between the existing infrastructure and the cloud,” says Cohen. 

Cohen summarizes these key differences as: 

  • The control businesses have over the underlying infrastructure in a private data center does not exist in the cloud 
  • The performance characteristics of multi-service-based applications need to be engineered in the cloud 
  • The availability of an application needs to be designed specifically to leverage multiple-cloud components 
  • The security policies on-premises are different from those in the cloud, as objects are much more static 

“These differences are fundamental and often times when customers do not address them in the migration phase, they end up paying an arm and a leg as they replicate their overprovisioning strategies to the cloud, as well as managing unnecessary cloud services,” Cohen concludes. 

“Most successful organizations have been overcoming these challenges by gradually migrating applications, and optimizing the migration process as they move forward to additional applications. This process typically results in a more secure and reliable application infrastructure.” 

“It’s important to take a gradual approach,” agrees Atigolo. “An organization would benefit from having end-to-end planning, as trying to migrate everything all at the same time risks creating additional issues, and more implementation expense, and delays.” 

Once you’ve selected the parts that are most likely to thrive in a cloud environment, you need to prioritize your migration plan. Obviously, the parts of your infrastructure that are stable, modern, and working efficiently won’t be top of your list; unless they’re proving to be costly to run and you’re looking to switch up deployment to make them more economical. 

Cost optimization is a key element of mitigating cloud migration risks. One report suggests as much as a third of cloud computing spend goes to waste, while 18% of respondents in our latest Careers and Hiring Guide listed budget shortages as one of the main reasons for their AWS go-live delay. Given that 60% of respondents chose to implement AWS because of a desire to reduce costs, it’s easy to see why cost optimization shouldn’t be overlooked when looking to reduce the risks of cloud migration. 

It’s okay to start small and build up your cloud portfolio over time. Beginning with non-business-critical apps and migrating progressively will make it much easier to deal with and, in future, offset any issues that arise without grinding your operations to a halt. 

Not testing thoroughly

Testing is obviously an extremely vital step toward ducking a cloud migration disaster. However, many organizations overlook this, choosing to conduct testing once their migration is almost complete and their apps and infrastructure have landed in their new home. 

Testing should be baked in at every stage of your migration plan, allowing you to spot any potential issues at the earliest possible stage. The more you test and weed out problems early on, the smoother your migration will go. Despite this, 29% of respondents listed issues with testing as a contributing factor to go-live delays in our Careers and Hiring Guide 

Essentially, testing acts as a cloud migration risk assessment, allowing you to identify potential pitfalls in key areas, such as data and security. Ensure you’re sufficiently and strategically backing up files before these tests so that it’s a quick fix to revert back in instances of data loss or security breaches.   

“Many organizations fail to extensively or adequately test before migrating their entire infrastructure to the cloud,” says Atigolo. 

“Trying to work towards unrealistic timelines is a recipe for disaster.” 

“You should not see migration as a quick win, but as a planned strategy to add tangible benefits to your organization. The same level of planning, attention, due diligence, and testing is required for migration as it would be if you were building a new architecture or center for your data.” 

Overlooking the human element

Cloud migration is a transformative project. It can totally revolutionize the way a business creates products, delivers its services, or connects with its customers. But all this cloud magic doesn’t happen independently —people, as well as processes, need to adapt. 

Users need to get to grips with radically updated software, operational shifts, and new processes when seeking technical support. Education, training, and change management are just as important when it comes to IT staff, too. 

For example, more than half (54%) of respondents in our Careers and Hiring Guide faced challenges with their implementation because they lacked the appropriate skills internally, with a further 23% facing user adoption challenges.  

As you move away from legacy IT models and responsibility for your operations becomes decentralized, roles will change. Your IT teams will need to adapt to a new way of doing things and find innovative ways to support users while adding value to the business. 

With a lack of user adoption posing a major threat to any implementation, training, and governance need to be a key focus to ensure that when your cloud environment does go live, your staff are actually using it. 

Involve people early on, sell the benefits of the migration, and explain if and how their day-to-day lives will change. The longer people have to warm to the migration, the more prepared they’ll feel, able to take harness its full potential when it’s complete. 

On the hunt for specialist AWS talent to assist with your cloud migration project? Use our candidate search tool to begin finding skilled AWS professionals today, or submit your job vacancy to be matched with the very best AWS candidates in as little as 48 hours.  

Unmissable insights on hiring AWS talent

Our Careers and Hiring Guide captures the trends and sentiments from across the community, and teaches you how to use it to your advantage when looking to hire and retain AWS teams.