03 June 2012

Data Migration – What is Data Migration?

    If you are working in a data-centric business it’s almost impossible for the average worker not to have heard this term, even tangentially. Considering the meaning of “migration” - the act or process of moving from one place to another - the intuition might even tell what data migration is about: the process of moving data from one place to another. It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? Now as data are moved over and over again between various places, for example the various layers of an applications, between databases, between media storage devices, and so on, we need some precision in defining the term because not all these can be considered as data migration examples. Actually we can talk about data copying or data movement without speaking of data migration. So, what is data migration? Here are a few takes on defining data migration:

    “process of transferring data from one platform or operating system to another” (Babylon)

   "Data migration is the process of transferring data between storage types, formats, or computer systems." (Wikipedia)

    "Data migration is the movement of legacy data to new media and technologies as the older ones are displaced." (Toolbox)

    “The purpose of data migration is to transfer existing data to the new environment.” (Talend)

    “Data Migration is the process of moving data from one or more sources into a target application” (Utopia Inc.)

    “[…] is the one off selection, preparation and transportation of appropriate data, of the right quality, to the right place, at the right time.(J. Morris)

    Resuming the above definitions, data migration can be defined as “the process of selecting, assessing, converting, preparing, validating and moving data from one or more information systems to another system”. The definition isn’t at all perfect, first of all because some of the terms need further explanation, secondly because any of the steps may be skip or other important steps can be identified in the process, and thirdly because further clarifications are needed. Anyway, it offers some precision, and at least for this reason, could be preferred to the above definitions.

    So, resuming, data migration supposes the movement of data from one or more information systems, referred as source systems, to another one, the target system. Typically the new system replaces the old systems, they being retired, or they can continue to be used with reduced scope, for example for reporting purposes or . Even if performed in stages, the movement is typically one time activity, so everything has to be perfect. That’s the purpose of the other steps – to minimize the risks of something going wrong. The choice of steps and their complexity depends on the type of information systems involved, on the degree of resemblance between source and target, business needs, etc.

    As mentioned above, not everything that involves data movement can be considered as data migration. For example data integration involves the movement and combination of data from various information systems in order to provide a unified view. Data synchronization involves the movement of data in order to reflect the changes of data in one information system into another, when data from the two systems need to be consistent. Data mirroring involves the synchronization of data, though it involves an exact copy of the data, the mirroring occurring continuously in real time. Data backup involves the movement/copy of data at a given point in time for eventual restore in case of data loss. Data transfer refers to the movement of row data between the layers of information systems. To make things even fuzzier, these types of data movements can be considered in a data migration too, as data need to be locally integrated, synchronized, transferred, mirrored or back up. Data migration is overall a complex thematic.

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