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A data center migration is represented by a person physically pushing a rack of data center infrastructure into place
Various reasons may prompt a move to a new data center, like finding a different provider with lower prices, or the added security of relocating assets from an on-premises location to a colocation facility or private cloud.

Despite the potential benefits, data center migrations are often tough on enterprises, both internally and from the client side of things. Data center managers, systems administrators, and network engineers must cope with the logistical difficulties of planning, executing, and supporting the move. End-users may experience service disruptions and performance issues that make their jobs harder. Migrations also tend to reveal any weaknesses in the actual infrastructure that’s moved, which means systems that once worked perfectly may require extra support during and after the migration.

The best way to limit headaches and business disruptions is to plan every step of a data center migration meticulously. This guide provides a basic data center migration checklist to help with planning and includes additional resources for streamlining your move.

Data center migration checklist

Data center migrations are always complex and unique to each organization, but there are typically two major approaches:

  • Lift-and-shift. You physically move infrastructure from one data center to another. In some ways, this is the easiest approach because all components are known, but it can limit your potential benefits if gear remains in racks for easy transport to the new location rather than using the move as an opportunity to improve or upgrade certain parts.
  • New build. You replace some or all of your infrastructure with different solutions in a new data center. This approach is more complex because services and dependencies must be migrated to new environments, but it also permits organizations to simultaneously improve operational processes, cut costs, and update existing tech stacks.

The following data center migration checklist will help guide your planning for either approach and ensure you’re asking the right questions to prepare for any potential problems.

Quick Data Center Migration Checklist

  • Conduct site surveys of the current and the new data centers to determine the existing limitations and available resources, like space, power, cooling, cable management, and security.

  • Locate – or create – documentation for infrastructure requirements such as storage, compute, networking, and applications.

  • Outline the dependencies and ancillary systems from the current data center environment that you must replicate in the new data center.

  • Plan the physical layout and overall network topology of the new environment, including physical cabling, out-of-band management, network, storage, power, rack layout, and cooling.

  • Plan your management access, both for the deployment and for ongoing maintenance, and determine how to assist the rollout (for example, with remote access and automation).

  • Determine your networking requirements (e.g., VLANs, IP addresses, DNS, MPLS) and make an implementation plan.

  • Plan out the migration itself and include disaster recovery options and checkpoints in case something changes or issues arise.

  • Determine who is responsible for which aspects of the move and communicate all expectations and plans.

  • Assign a dedicated triage team to handle end-user support requests if there are issues during or immediately after the move.

  • Create a list of vendor contacts for each migrated component so it’s easier to contact support if something goes wrong.

  • If possible, use a lab environment to simulate key steps of the data center migration to identify potential issues or gaps.

  • Have a testing plan ready to execute once the move is complete to ensure infrastructure integrity, performance, and reliability in the new data center environment.

1.  Site surveys

The first step is to determine your physical requirements – how much space, power, cooling, cable management, etc., you’ll need in the new data center. Then, conduct site surveys of the new environment to identify existing limitations and available resources. For example, you’ll want to make sure the HVAC system can provide adequate climate control – specific to the new locale – for your incoming hardware. You may need to verify that your power supply can support additional chillers or dehumidifiers, if necessary, to maintain optimal temperature ranges. In addition to physical infrastructure requirements, factors like security and physical accessibility are important considerations for your new location.

2. Infrastructure documentation

At a bare minimum, you need an accurate list of all the physical and virtual infrastructure you’re moving to the new data center. You should also collect any existing documentation on your application and system requirements for storage, compute, networking, and security to ensure you cover all these bases in the migration. If that documentation doesn’t exist, now’s the time to create it. Having as much documentation as possible will streamline many of the following steps in your data center move.

3. Dependencies and ancillary services

Aside from the infrastructure you’re moving, hundreds or thousands of other services will likely be affected by the change. It’s important to map out these dependencies and ancillary services to learn how the migration will affect them and what you can do to smooth the transition. For example, if an application or service relies on a legacy database, you may need to upgrade both the database and its hardware to ensure end-users have uninterrupted access. As an added benefit, creating this map also aids in implementing micro-segmentation for Zero Trust security.

4. Layout and topology

The next step is to plan the physical layout of the new data center infrastructure. Where will network, storage, and power devices sit in the rack and cabinets? How will you handle cable management? Will your planned layout provide enough airflow for cooling? This is also the time to plan the network topology – how traffic will flow to, from, and within the new data center infrastructure.

5. Management access

You must determine how your administrators will deploy and manage the new data center infrastructure. Will you enable remote access? If so, how will you ensure continuous availability during migration or when issues arise? Do you plan to automate your deployment with zero touch provisioning?

6. Network planning

If you didn’t cover this in your infrastructure documentation, you’ll need specific documentation for your data center networking requirements – both WAN (wide area networking) and LAN (local area networking). This is a good time to determine whether you want to exactly replicate your existing network environment or make any network infrastructure upgrades. Then, create a detailed implementation plan covering everything from VLANs to IP address provisioning, DNS migrations, and ordering MPLS circuits.

7. Migration & build planning

Next, plan out each step of the move or build itself – the actions your team will perform immediately before, during, and after the migration. It’s important to include disaster recovery options in case critical services break, or unforeseen changes cause delays. Implementing checkpoints at key stages of the move will help ensure any issues are fixed before they impact subsequent migration steps.

8. Assembling a team

At this stage, you likely have a team responsible for planning the data center migration, but you also need to identify who’s responsible for every aspect of the move itself. It’s critical to do this as early as possible so you have time to set expectations, communicate the plan, and handle any required pre-migration training or support. Additionally, ensure this team includes dedicated support staff who can triage end-user requests if any issues arise during or after the migration.

9. Vendor support

Any experienced sysadmin will tell you that anything that could go wrong with a data center migration probably will, so you should plan for the worst but hope for the best. That means collecting a list of vendor contacts for each hardware and software component you’re migrating so it will be easier to contact support if something goes awry. For especially critical systems, you may even want to alert your vendor POCs prior to the move so they can be on hand (or near their phones) on the day of the move.

10. Lab simulation

This step may not be feasible for every organization, but ideally, you’ll use a lab environment to simulate key stages of the data center migration before you actually move. Running a virtualized simulation can help you identify potential hiccups with connection settings or compatibility issues. It can also highlight gaps in your planning – like forgetting to restore user access and security rules after building new firewalls – so you can address them before they affect production services.

11. Post-migration testing

Finally, you need to create a post-migration testing plan that’s ready to implement as soon as the move is complete. Testing will validate the integrity, performance, and reliability of infrastructure in the new environment, allowing teams to proactively resolve issues instead of waiting for monitoring notifications or end-user complaints.

Streamlining your data center migration

Using this data center migration checklist to create a comprehensive plan will help reduce setbacks on the day of the move. To further streamline the migration process and set yourself up for success in your new environment, consider upgrading to a vendor-neutral data center orchestration platform. Such a platform will provide a unified tool for administrators and engineers to monitor, deploy, and manage modern, multi-vendor, and legacy data center infrastructure. Reducing the number of individual solutions you need to access and manage during migration will decrease complexity and speed up the move, so you can start reaping the benefits of your new environment sooner.

Want to learn more about Data Center migration?

For a complete data center migration checklist, including in-depth guidance and best practices for moving day, click here to download our Complete Guide to Data Center Migrations or contact ZPE Systems today to learn more.
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