Data Migration Headaches Underscored by Softek Survey

Some people don’t believe in making numbers just fit the bill; they ask at the source and tell it like it is.

Migration has such a nice sound to it. The word conjures images of flocks of geese floating in perfect symmetry through the skies, swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano in March, or whales cruising effortlessly through open oceans in quiet observance of ancient mating and breeding rituals.

However, according to an on-going survey of end users regarding data migration headaches, (being conducted online at http://www.migrationstudy.com by Softek Storage Solutions Company) the term “migration” seems to have a lot more in common with traffic jams. Think “Snow Bird” season in Florida, sitting in gridlock amidst a sea of gas guzzlers bearing Canadian, New York, and New Jersey license plates, choking on clouds of blue exhaust fumes. You pretty much get the idea..

Of the 280 companies initially surveyed by Softek, about three-quarters conceded to having problems when migrating data from the proverbial point A to point B. Fifty-four percent noted that their problems had roots in technical incompatibilities between source and target storage arrays, and 68 percent said extended or unexpected downtime was a common outcome of migration problems.

It is a fact of life that effective storage management requires the ongoing movement of data from one platform to another. “Technology refresh” is the motivation most commonly cited by Softek study respondents thus far: newer equipment is purchased or the leases expire on older equipment, requiring the re-platforming of data. However, an interesting contradiction underscored by the study is that 31 percent of respondents say they are delaying storage purchases because of problems anticipated during the ensuing migration activity.

My take on this is that the proprietary games played by Big Iron vendors to lock out the competition in customer accounts are now coming back to bite them. Incompatibilities designed into otherwise commodity storage wares are having a chilling effect on acquisitions.

This may also be a reflection of little tricks that some vendors have been using to gouge more money out of consumers who upgrade from one box to another. One big vendor recently released a new Big Iron array and began selling aggressively into its existing accounts. What they didn’t tell customers was that migrating from their older platform to the newer one would require the additional expense of leasing a second box as a transitional repository for the data that was being migrated. The price tag for the transitional platform lease: $100K per month.

Another data point emerging from Softek’s research is that successful data migration requires effective planning and plenty of personnel. Time and resources: the very two things that are the most difficult to come by in IT shops today, with budgets and staff cut to the bone. In the preliminary survey, 75 percent of respondents claimed that data migration required a minimum of two weeks of pre-planning, while 30 percent claimed that four weeks of pre-planning might be a better estimate. Almost half of all respondents said that migrations required at least four people.

Those statistics almost predicted another data point: user awareness of automated tools to facilitate data migration is lagging. While 80 percent of z/OS mainframe users reported that they used data migration tools, only 50 percent of open systems (UNIX/Windows) folks had ever used such wares. Amazingly, 38 percent of respondents weren’t even aware that automation existed to facilitate data migration.

I was astounded when reading that last bit in the preliminary study, but my surprise may simply reflect having cut my IT teeth in the mainframe world where a priority needed to be placed on migrating data through infrastructure to avoid buying more refrigerator-sized direct access storage devices (DASD). We always relied on products such as TDMF (now a Softek ware) to ease disk-to-disk data movement and reorganization. That’s one of the things that first attracted me to Softek: they had ported TDMF to distributed systems with their Softek Replicator product, an outstanding tool for data migration in open systems.

Bottom line: Softek is doing what every vendor ought to be doing. They are going out to the user community and looking for good information about what the workers in the trenches need. The survey site is devoid of any Softek branding and users get some sort of perk for their time and effort (a Blockbuster gift certificate) in completing the questionnaire. I encourage everyone reading this column to check out http://www.migrationstudy.com and give Softek your honest feedback.

If you are a vendor, check out the site to see how you ought to be gathering information to drive your product development efforts. The numbers you have been lifting from the presentations and reports of Gartner, IDC, and the rest of the “IT Research and Analysis” droids are pretty pathetic compared to this kind of data.

My two cents. Please forward yours to jtoigo@intnet.net.

Post Scriptum: In November, we ran a column calling for a Data Management Summit. We argued that you couldn’t trust the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) or the vendor community to come up with a data-naming scheme for you. Left to vendors, the result would inevitably be the creation of data classes that mapped to their own wares. To solve the problems of data management, we argued, users needed to get involved in the process.

Response to that column was huge, with both users and vendors surprisingly agreeing with the premise. So, this May, the folks at Networld+Interop have granted my wish: mark your calendars for May 3 through 5 and come out to N+I 2005 in Las Vegas for the Data Management and Compliance Summit. What happens in Vegas will not stay in Vegas.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.