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Data migration best practices for SMBs

Learn about the data migration tools, techniques, and services available to small- and medium-sized organizations.

Data migration projects are necessary to keep up with changing storage technologies and business needs. The challenge for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is finding data migration tools and services that fit within their budget, and are sophisticated and capable enough to get the job done.

"The focus for SMBs is how they can do more with less," said Ashish Nadkarni, a senior analyst and consultant with the Taneja Group. And when facing infrequent projects like data migrations, these challenges become more pronounced because SMBs are less able to acquire the infrequently used but expensive migration-specific tools larger organizations can afford.

According to David Chapa, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., "Most of the time, [SMBs] have to go for best in budget vs. best in breed."

In this tutorial on data migration best practices, learn about the data migration tools, techniques, and services available to SMBs. Learn about the pros and cons of using a value-added reseller (VAR) to help with your project, how the cloud could play a role in data migration and about the best services and products for SMBs.


>> Data migration tools for SMBs 
>> Third-party data migration tools 
>> Cloud-based data migration tools 
>> Best practices for working with VARs 

Data migration tools for SMBs

There is no shortage of data migration tools on the market today. Data migration can be accomplished using simple operating system (OS) point-to-point copying programs, backup applications, migration-specific software packages, appliances and online services. A number of storage vendors offer software and hardware products, as do third parties like Double-Take Software Inc. (now part of Vision Solutions) and InMage Systems Inc. Then you have VARs that not only provide do-it-yourself tools, but a wide range of services all the way up to complete planning and project execution. Introducing server and storage virtualization technologies can also give you powerful data migration tools while adding flexibility to your environment. A data migration project can be the incentive for introducing virtualization technologies into your environment, or a hypervisor layer can be implemented for the data migration and then removed after the project is completed.

At the most basic OS level, there are a few tools storage administrators can use to copy volumes from one device directly to another. Robocopy, which is included in the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and 2008 Resource Kit Tools, will copy files and file structures between devices as well as file information, including date and time stamps and security access control lists. It now has a point-and-click GUI to go along with its traditional command line administration. Robocopy must be scheduled and executed manually, it cannot automatically run. Another tool is rsync, a free, open-source file transfer utility that can transfer entire Unix and Windows' system directories. However, rsync is a command line tool that requires scripting knowledge.

A number of backup applications, such as Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec and NetBackup, and CommVault Systems Inc.'s Simpana software can be used as data migration tools. You backup your data to a backup target and restore in on the new device. The advantages to this technique include using software you already own and are familiar with. The disadvantages are that this technique does not address configuration changes and is a manual process that can be complicated and time consuming.

Symantec also offers Veritas Volume Replicator as an option to its Veritas Storage Foundation storage management software. According to Symantec, Volume Replicator provides cross-platform, synchronous or asynchronous between heterogeneous server architectures. CommVault also offers host-based data replication in its Simpana software product.

Storage virtualization is another developing technology that can be extremely useful in a data migration project if you are willing to spend the money and deal with the added complexity. If you are already planning a storage virtualization implementation, the technology can also be useful for data migration projects. Each vendor has its own take on storage virtualization, but generally it means combining multiple devices and presenting them to users as one storage entity. By adding new devices to the pool and migrating your data while the old and new drives are still online, you avoid any downtime and can verify a successful project while the old drives are still available in case there are any problems.

According to Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst for StorageIO Group, once the migration project is completed, the virtualization resources can be put to use for automated tiering, patching and upgrades, and quick equipment replacements. "It's a way of transitioning old technology out and new technology in," Schulz said, "and also getting the value of snapshots, replication, and automated tiering." Storage virtualization vendors include DataCore Software Corp., FalconStor Software Inc., Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Corp. and IBM Corp.

Editor's tip: For information, check out Greg Schulz's advice on the best SMB data migration strategies.

Third-party data migration tools

A number of vendors, including InMage, Double-Take, EMC Corp., SANpulse Technologies Inc. and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. offer products that can be used to facilitate the transfer of data between systems.

InMage Systems' Scout backup and replication system does real-time local or remote replication using the Scout Server software appliance. Scout collects production data changes as they occur and sends them to the Scout Server to relieve the production-server load.

Double-Take's Move software also does real-time replication for physical, virtual or combination environments. Production servers remain online during the migration, and it can move OSes, applications and data between different systems.

EMC's RecoverPoint is another real-time replication and data protection solution with policy-based management for heterogeneous storage. RecoverPoint does block-level data changes concurrently to local and remote targets.

SANpulse Technologies Inc. is targeted mainly at midsized and enterprise organizations, but its hybrid product and service approach merits mention. The company's SANlogics software platform can be run locally, centrally, or from the cloud for a data-migration project. The SANease service includes a storage architect and project manager local to the customer. The software and service is licensed according to the size of the environment and scope of the services used.

Hewlett-Packard's StorageWorks XP Auto LUN software can be leased for 90 days for data migration projects. So storage administrators can access enterprise-grade software without having to purchase the product outright. The system will prepare its own migration plan and stand by for approval. HP's StorageWorks Storage Mirroring software also provides host-based replication targeted at midsized and enterprise environments.

Editor's tip: For information about getting started with data migration projects, check out our top tips on data migration processes.

 Cloud-based data migration tools

A number of cloud backup service providers offer recovery services SMBs can use to facilitate migration projects. Venyu Solutions Inc. and Geminare Inc. are two online backup providers that offer cloud-based virtual server recovery services. One way the online backup providers can be used for data migration is similar to how Symantec and CommVault can backup data and restore it to separate devices. Data can be restored over the Internet, which might only work for small amounts of data, or the cloud provider can send you a drive with the backup data.

According to ESG's Chapa, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers can also stand in for physical production devices. "[Recovery service providers] could very easily be used to augment a data migration because they offer physical-to-virtual recovery, and they can pop-up a virtual server on demand," Chapa said. The virtual servers are used as production servers while their physical counterparts are taken down for the data migration project.

Editor's tip: For information about cloud backup, check out our tutorial on cloud backup services.

 Best practices for working with VARs 

"Customers use VARs more as trusted advisors more than just a hardware reseller or software reseller," Taneja Group's Nadkarni said. "I think a VAR is a great option," Schulz added. "Many VARs already have [data migration services] or they are expanding, and either doing it themselves or partnering with others to bring that value."

Using a VAR to assist in the planning of your migration project can ensure that enough time is spent preparing for the project. "It all boils down to time," said Irwin Teodoro, vice president of engineering and systems integration for Laurus Technologies Inc., an IT consulting firm based in Itasca, Illinois. "[SMBs] don't really have the time."

Jeff Baken, data center manager for AmeriPride Services Inc., a Minneapolis, Minn.,-based provider of apparel services such as garment rental, faced a large data migration and centralization project last year. AmeriPride purchased a new HP StorageWorks XP24000 disk array and migrated all of the data from its old Hitachi Data Systems Corp. storage area network (SAN). The company was also in the middle of a three-year program to centralize 15 TB of enterprise resource planning (ERP) data from its 50 branch offices and move it to Oracle Corp.'s E-Business Suite.

AmeriPride used its existing VAR partner, Works Computing Inc. Baken brought Works in at the beginning of his three-month project and they spent the first four weeks planning the migration.

During the planning stage, Baken and his team had to document AmeriPride's entire environment and plan the migration to happen mostly in off hours so as not to disrupt the company's 6,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada.

Quincy Nguyen, a server and storage engineer with AmeriPride, said Baken and he selected the HP XP24000 partly because of its high-availability features and ability to migrate data in real-time without disrupting production applications. "In support of [the ERP application] we really needed a storage solution that would provide the level of service and high availability we needed for a centralized application," Baken explained, "because if this application were to go down, we couldn't interact with our customers." The XP24000 allowed them to set resource priorities during production time so critical applications got the processing and bandwidth they needed while the XP24000 was concurrently migrating data.

The AmeriPride team also leased HP's Auto LUN software. Baken said the Auto LUN technology was helpful because it does byte-level migration from controller-to-controller.

In addition to the consultants from Works Computing, Baken and his team also worked with HP's engineers to develop the project plan and develop the policies to be used during the migration.

Whether you decide to go it alone or bring in outside help for your data migration project, Schulz recommended doing your homework and asking a lot of questions so there are no misunderstandings. If you plan to do it yourself and employ software or a hardware appliance, Schulz said to find something that doesn't require constant manual intervention, but lets you make the decisions when needed. "You want to look at solutions that give you tools that can automate it," Schulz said, "but that also gives you the ability to approve potential data migrations."

When searching for data migrations services, make sure you understand exactly what the VAR will provide and what it won't. Does the VAR bring planning, projection, downtime services and advice to the table, or does it just provide a tool and expect you to run it? Does the VAR manage the project as well, or do they bring other people in to help manage the project?

Teodoro cautioned against shopping by price. "This is one of those things you really need the skill set for," Teodoro said. "The successful providers are the ones that are certified in essentially every type of major storage device that's out there."

Whatever approach you use when undertaking a data migration project, it is critical to understand everything about the environment to make sure all data is transferred and ends up where it is supposed to. Having expertise in both the old technology and new technology is ideal, so the migration goes smoothly, configurations remain consistent, and the data comes up in the same place it was prior to the change.

Editor's tip: To get started with your data migration project, download our free data migration checklist

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