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What is cloud migration?

Learn about the different types of migration—including cloud to cloud and datacenter migrations—and explore learning resources about a wide variety of cloud migration topics.

Cloud migration definition

Cloud migration is the process of moving applications and data from one location, often a company's private, on-site ("on-premises") servers to a public cloud provider’s servers, but also between different clouds. The main cloud migration benefits include reducing IT costs and improving performance, but there are security, convenience, and other advantages, too.

Keep reading to learn more about the main types of migration, common benefits and challenges, how to move applications and data to a cloud, and the three main managed service models: IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS.

Types of cloud migration

Two key technical factors in most migrations are:

1. the type of resource (or, "workload") that's being migrated, and.

2. the location that it's being migrated to.

This section explains some of the most common migration scenarios, and provides an overview of different migration processes, best practices, and business considerations.

Datacenter migration

Datacenter migration is the process of moving data from on-premises servers and mainframes (often stored in a server room at an organization’s office), to a cloud provider's servers, which are typically housed in very large, highly secure, and professionally maintained buildings.

High-capacity networks are the most common way to move datacenter resources to the cloud, but when a powerful network isn't available, the resources can still be migrated by first moving them onto high-capacity disks and "data boxes" and then physically shipped to the cloud provider and uploaded to their servers.

Hybrid cloud migration

Many organizations choose to leave some of their resources in their on-premises datacenter and only move a portion of them to the cloud, creating a "hybrid cloud." Hybrid cloud benefits include maximizing the value of existing on-premises datacenter equipment, as well as allowing organizations in certain industries to meet industry and governmental compliance requirements.

Hybrid clouds are also useful for cloud to cloud backup, in which on-premises data is backed up on a public cloud as a disaster recovery solution in the event that the on-premises datacenter becomes inoperable, such as in the case of a fire, flood, or crime. (In this case, "cloud to cloud" refers to on-premises datacenters sometimes being called "private clouds.")

Cloud to cloud migration

Now that cloud computing is so common, many organizations are using multiple clouds—often due to mergers and acquisitions—and they sometimes choose to move resources between their public clouds using cloud to cloud migration. This type of migration is also useful when an organization wants to take advantage of different cloud platforms' products, services, and pricing.

While managing resources across multiple clouds might seem difficult, it's possible to conveniently manage them all from a single place using a central management tool.

Application, database, and mainframe migration

LinuxSAPSQL Server, and Windows Server are some of the most commonly migrated workloads. For mainframe migration, two of the most commonly used are IBM and Unisys.

Typical cloud migration benefits for these workloads include lower costs, faster and more reliable performance, access to cloud-based developer tools and APIs, more robust security, and the ability to increase or decrease capacity without needing to purchase, install, and maintain new equipment.

While it's often possible to migrate these workloads without making changes to them (known as a "lift and shift" migration), there are benefits to updating (or, "refactoring") them to optimize their performance and reliability on the cloud.

Refer to the resources section for information on how to migrate different workloads.

Managed service models

As you research cloud migration, there's a good chance you'll come across the terms IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. These terms refer to different levels of managed services that are available through many tech and cloud providers.

Different levels of managed services

IaaS (infrastructure as a service) allows you to quickly scale up and down as demand changes, letting you pay only for what you use. It helps you avoid the expense and complexity of buying and managing your own physical servers and other datacenter infrastructure.

PaaS (platform as a service) includes the benefits of IaaS, but includes managed developer tools, databases, business analytics, and operating systems. It's ideal for reducing development costs and accelerating development time.

SaaS (software as a service) includes IaaS and PaaS, but includes the added convenience of app hosting, which allows users to connect to and use cloud-based apps (such as email and office apps) over the Internet.

Cloud migration stages

There are different technical processes and best practices for migrating different workloads and creating different cloud configurations, but all cloud migrations follow the same basic six stages:

Define strategy

Define the business justification for migration and expected outcomes.


Align the cloud migration plan to the desired business outcomes.


Prepare the on-premises and cloud environments for the migration.


Move the workloads to the cloud environment.


Benchmark and implement security and cost governance best practices for the cloud environment and workloads.


Use proven methodologies for ongoing management of the cloud solution.

Cloud migration benefits and challenges

Some of the most common cloud migration benefits are:

Optimized costs

In addition to being able to optimize workloads for cost, there are significant savings in equipment, maintenance, and real estate costs.

Flexibility and scalability

Get exactly the right computing resources when you need them on demand and never pay for equipment that you don't use. And with some cloud platforms' global presence, you can run workloads closer to where your customers are for better performance.

Enhanced security

Public clouds make it easier to help protect your data and applications by providing built-in security at the platform level, as well as a variety of specialized security tools. In many cases, security patching is done automatically by the cloud provider.


For highly regulated industries like finance, healthcare, and government, some cloud platforms have specialized offerings to meet compliance requirements more easily.

Backup, recovery, and failover

Most cloud providers offer built-in and one-click backup recovery capabilities, including the ability to store backups in different geographic regions.

Simplified management and monitoring

If the cloud provider offers a central management tool, it's easy to manage and monitor datacenter and cloud resources from a single screen.

Some of the most common migration challenges are:


Moving individual workloads can be straightforward, but planning a large-scale migration requires extensive planning across the organization.


Moving to the cloud can provide both short- and long-term returns on investment, but it's important to factor in the costs of planning and implementing a migration.

Security and compliance

Cloud providers offer a variety of security and compliance offerings, but customers' are responsible for implementing the right solutions for their needs.

Business downtime

Moving even massive amounts of data to the cloud can be done very quickly, but it requires careful planning to minimize downtime during the move.

Organizational adoption and training

IT professionals and developers will find that most of their current skills apply to the cloud, but some skills training is still required.

Migration partner/vendor selection

Partners are invaluable for organizations that don't have the in-house expertise or capacity to plan and implement their migration, but selecting the right one takes careful consideration.

Frequently asked questions

  • Learn how to implement cost-effective, highly secure, easy-to-manage backup for all of your on-premises and cloud resources with Azure Backup.

  • For most organizations, the answer depends on the size and complexity of their migration project, as well as their in-house IT capabilities. Azure offers a variety of resources, tools, training, and guidance for both in-house and partner-assisted migrations:

    • If you're not sure where to begin, we recommend joining the free Azure Migration Program to get customized recommendations, a phone consultation with an Azure expert, curated resources, and partner recommendations.
    • If you want to implement your migration (or parts of it) on your own, check out the Azure cloud migration resources page for migration videos, webinars, scenario guides, and learning resources for most common scenarios and workloads.
  • During a cloud migration, it’s likely that IT professionals will need to develop new skills to ensure a successful migration. That said, these skills can be quickly and easily acquired with the right training resources. Azure offers numerous trainings, courses, modules, and certificates to give you the skills and confidence to help your organization smoothly implement cloud technology. Learn more.

  • Azure migration resources

Azure Migration and Modernization Program

Get curated resources and expert help for every stage of your cloud journey.

Azure events and webinars

Learn new skills, discover new technologies, and connect with your community—digitally or in person.

Azure Migrate

Discover, assess, right-size and migrate your on-prem VMs to Azure.

App migration

Quickly create and deploy mission-critical web apps at scale.

Windows Server migration

Migrate Windows Server workloads using tools you're already familiar with.

SQL Server migration

Move SQL Server databases to Azure with few or no code changes.

Linux migration

Migrate Linux workloads to Azure using proven tools.

Mainframe migration

Move mainframe and midrange applications to the cloud.

Azure Backup

Simplify data protection with one-click cloud to cloud backup.

Azure Arc

Extend Azure services and management to any infrastructure.

Azure Data Box

Get appliances and solutions for data transfer to Azure and edge compute.

Microsoft Cost Management

Manage your cloud spending with confidence.

Azure SQL

Run always up-to-date SQL in the cloud with flexible options for application migration.

Azure Hybrid Benefit

Migrate workloads cost-effectively to the best cloud for Windows and SQL Server.

Get curated resources and expert help for every stage of your migration through the Azure Migration Program

Migrate to the Azure cloud platform cloud and get started with 12 months of free services