Federal Cloud Leaders Say Lift-And-Shift Migrations Can Leave You ‘Sorely Disappointed’

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Agency experts said it’s often better to start over with legacy systems than try to force them into the cloud.

As agencies are looking to move to the cloud, they should consider starting over whenever possible, rather than trying to lift and shift, several agency cloud experts said.

In a cloud migration, “lift and shift” refers to moving existing systems into a cloud environment, rather than building a new architecture specifically for the new environment. This can range from putting agency servers into a colocation infrastructure-as-a-service model to moving legacy applications into a virtual environment using containers or by tweaking the code.

“We’re trying to avoid lift-and-shifts,” Richie Balkissoon, cloud architect at the Homeland Security Department, said at an event Wednesday hosted by FCW. “We’re finding a lot of complexity in that. In some places, we’ve saved money and in most places, we’ve actually lost money. So, we’re trying to find those gaps in the lift-and-shift and avoid taking something that’s already existing and not rearchitecting into something new.”

This isn’t true in all cases, Balkissoon said. Straightforward applications and systems that don’t require significant re-engineering can be moved easily and Homeland Security has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by moving some internal apps that way, he said.

“The lift-and-shift model, we’re finding it really, really does depend on what that model looks like,” Balkissoon added later. “If it’s a very complicated application, if we’re doing a lot of customizations, if there’s a lot going on with that application data—a lot of changes—that’s where things get really expensive. … I’m not saying that it’s always been a cost problem, what I am saying you have to be careful about what applications you choose.”

Ed Simcox, deputy chief technology officer at Health and Human Services, agreed but warned there are other dangers to lift-and-shift beyond cost, such as complacency.

“Sometimes it makes sense to get things into the cloud in its native format. It can provide us an extra bit of agility—extra speed,” he said. “The fear is that you do that and then there’s no forcing function to go in further with the modernization efforts on that app. And sometimes that’s OK but sometimes that can be an excuse to not continue to move forward.”

During another session later in the day, John Hale, chief of Defense Information Systems Agency Cloud Services, echoed the sentiment that lift-and-shift should be avoided.

“I will tell you from first-hand knowledge that if you do lift-and-shift into the cloud you’re going to be sorely disappointed with your return on investment,” he said. Instead, he suggested focusing efforts on “actually taking your applications and making them cloud-aware and cloud-enabled.”

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