Virtualization: Software migration

You have many options when it comes to migrating applications for a datacenter, from clean installs to hosting and virtualization.

Thomas Olzak

Adapted from “Microsoft Virtualization” (2010, Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier)

Software migration is one of the most critical aspects to consider as you plan your move to a dynamic datacenter. Assuming you’re familiar with other factors such as workload consolidation, hardware optimization, continuing support of legacy applications, working with isolated environments and hardware consolidation, you’re ready to consider your options surrounding software migration.

First, consider the obvious. What does it mean to migrate software? At this point, you should’ve already identified the best layout for your new dynamic datacenter. Your design should include everything from the most-used and most-critical software applications to the best hardware configuration to support those applications and your business. You should be left with the first step of executing on your plans and your design—software migration. Simply put, this means moving the applications to their appropriate place in the datacenter.

In a perfect world, this step would include a variety of elements, from clustering and virtualization to application streaming and hosting. However, in most cases, your world is far from perfect. You’ll have to work within boundaries such as available skill sets, limited budgets and regulatory compliance. Thankfully, there’s a broad spectrum of options to help you create a custom layout that not only fits within your budget, but also works with the pool of available skill sets and other potential limitations at your organization.

Migration options

There are many ways to migrate software. There’s the most traditional method, which is freshly installing the software onto a new platform. IT professionals worldwide do this on a daily basis. If done properly, it works just fine. Chances are you’ll be using this method for a number of your applications. It’s often the best and most reliable method. As a datacenter manager, though, only you will know when it’s best to perform fresh installs as opposed to migrations.

One example of an appropriate situation for a fresh install is when you have a software application that installs relatively easily with very few custom options needing configuration. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If the amount of time it would take to perform a fresh install of the application on a new server and make it fully ready for production is less than the time it would take to implement any of the other options discussed here, it may be your best bet.

Another form of software migration is outsourced, external hosting. Often when a business purchases a complex application, it may initially choose to host it internally based on the assumption the application will be easier to maintain. Over time, certain applications need so much vendor support that hosting internally becomes more of a bottleneck than a benefit. When this happens, having the application hosted by the vendor is something to consider.

Investigating this approach may result in the same decision to keep it internal, but at least you’ve looked into this option. You can also see what services the vendor may be able to provide better or at a lower cost, so it could prove to be a more cost-effective option in the future.

Virtualizing your applications is another approach. When I say “virtualizing an application,” I’m referring to the ability to run an application within a virtual space that you can manage as an individual item.

You can then stream these applications to either the application server or the client device. The user’s device can be most anything that can run the virtual client. The device can present the application even if it’s not capable of running the application itself.

Virtualization is an excellent consideration for applications with a relatively small datacenter footprint used by a large number of users. The Microsoft Office suite is a good example of this. The majority of companies that use Microsoft Office today have the suite installed locally on the users’ PCs. This works fine until it’s time to apply a large service pack or upgrade to the next version of Office. This often leads to conflicts about how to move such large amounts of data to remote users—not to mention patching against vulnerabilities in a timely manner.

There are certainly ways to do this without using virtualization, but virtualizing your Microsoft Office suite gives you benefits not always available through other means. Depending on the approach you choose in virtualizing your Microsoft Office suite, you can reduce the stress of all other scenarios by providing on-demand patching, background-controlled caching, and easier removal or cleanup of older Microsoft Office suites.

Microsoft offers virtualization and management tools to help make these activities easier and less expensive. Remember not to virtualize just because you’ve heard it’s a great technology or because senior management is putting on the pressure. As the IT professional in the room, it’s your job to clearly position virtualization as just one component of an overall plan for designing and managing a robust datacenter operation.

Finally, virtualization is a great way to repurpose aging servers. Don’t be so quick to send them to the shredder, especially if management has been pushing back on development or testing environments because of cost.

Simplify the process

So whether you choose to freshly install your applications, host them internally or externally, or have them virtualized, you’ll see that software migration doesn’t always have to be a complex process. You might discover through your research that the best option for a specific application is to simply leave it intact and not migrate it at all.

Software migration relies a great deal on how your company manages its applications, users and data. Once you fully understand each of those, you’ll be able to fluently decipher the best approach of migrating software within your datacenter.

Thomas Olzak

Thomas Olzak is the director of information security at HCR ManorCare, an Ohio-based short- and long-term rehabilitation and medical care provider with more than 500 locations spread throughout 32 states. Jason Boomer, Robert Keefer and James Sabovik also contributed to this article and the book from which it’s excerpted.

©2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Syngress, an imprint of Elsevier. Copyright 2011. “Microsoft Virtualization” by Thomas Olzak. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit