Dec 09, 2013

Automated Migration Tools – Do They Really Work? (WSM)

The following article, from the brilliant minds over at WSM, offers great insight regarding the effectiveness of auto-migration tools. 

WSM – Website Movers International provides a ‘real world’ assessment of automated server migration tools. If you’re considering automated server migration, you will want to read this first.

There’s been some recent buzz about automated migration tools like those offered by AppZero and Racemi, among others.

As the industry pioneer and global leader in migration services, WSM is often asked how well these types of automated migration tools work – or if they work at all – to effect a successful server migration process. First, let’s explore the types of automated migration tools, and what each are designed to accomplish.

Server Imaging Tools

Server imaging (also referred to as server mirroring or server cloning) are terms that are often used in the same context with server migration. While that may be relevant in some cases, it’s important to realize what a server imaging tool does, and does not do.

Most server imaging tools are simply designed to make a complete virtual image of a given server, and allow you to restore just that image on a new physical and virtual server. Putting aside any security or other policies your hosting provider may have against bringing over a foreign host operating system and supporting services (assuming the goal is to migrate from another web host into a new destination hosting provider) this type of tool can accomplish the basic imaging task in some scenarios.

It’s also important to note that most of the tools available today function only with specific Linux and Windows-based operating systems. Occasionally the imaging tools do not function well on dissimilar hardware and a restored image of an operating system may not be stable enough for a production environment.

So, let’s say the imaging process was a success, and you’ve been able to restore the image of the data restored onto a new server. In most all cases, there is still much work to be done if you actually need the image to be put into live production state. Let’s identify some of these tasks:

  • Re-configuring all of the websites/applications configured in IIS with the new hosts IP addresses (websites, databases, email, etc.)
  • Testing, Testing Testing! Make certain to thoroughly test your websites/applications functionality on the new server, to ensure you don’t run into any critical errors after the go live
  • Data/Database Synchronization. After testing and error resolution, you’ll probably want to synchronize any data or databases that have been updated during the migration process. Usually we recommend placing ‘maintenance’ pages on any dynamic sites during this final synchronization, to ensure no dynamic data is lost during DNS propagation.
  • DNS Changes. After the final data synchronization, for website/application migrations you’ll have to change the A records on your domains to point them to the new server. If you don’t have third party DNS services, you’ll have to create new DNS zone records at your new hosts domain name servers, and then change name server records on each domain to point them to the new server. It’s recommended that you lower TTL values 24 hours in advance of your planned go-live event to the minimum value allowed at your current DNS provider, to ensure faster propagation.

In summary, server imaging tools can generally be used for migrations from and to the SAME operating system and version, and are most effective only when migrating server environments within the same hosting service provider.

Is this a fully automated, hands-off process? CERTAINLY NOT! Does a tool like this help? Sure, for a very small sample size of migrations. Since most migrations involve version upgrades to operating systems, application versions, server builds, or expanded, load-balanced footprints using hybrid hosting models to leverage cloud and physical servers, a server imaging tool is probably not your best bet for the migration.

The simple fact is that in their current form, server imaging tools are useful only in a very narrow and strictly defined set of migration rules. When the server imaging tool has failed to perform a migration, the tool vendor should refund your costs – and leave you back where you started with an unfinished or unsuccessful migration. Net-net? Do plenty of diligence in advance to avoid the unnecessary delay and expense if you’re considering using a server imaging tool for your migration.

Advanced Migration Tools

Some firms (AppZero and Racemi come to mind) are pitching advanced migration tools that can pick up an application independent of the operating system (very specific operating systems including limited Windows, and very few Linux distributions), and seamlessly move it to a new physical or virtual server. Sounds great, right?

Not so much. The fact is, no two Linux/Windows-based applications and servers are exactly the same build, configuration, version and type – which would be a requirement if you wanted to use a tool like this. Even so, all the manual steps including testing, DB syncs and DNS modifications are still required to ensure a complete, successful migration.

To reiterate, you’re most likely to find that there WILL BE functional errors discovered during testing when moving your applications and/or databases to an upgraded operating system with updated supporting services. These errors will require manual, and often programmatic intervention, that an AppZero or Racemi tool simply cannot and in all probability will not ever be able to do.

That said, these tools can indeed automate the ‘forklifting’ of data from source to destination server, and in some extremely limited and simple use cases, complete an entire migrationEXCEPT for DB syncs and DNS changes.

The most important item to note here is that moving outdated applications to a newer operating system, if it works, leaves you extremely vulnerable from a security standpoint. If you are migrating legacy applications/services, it’s always best to update all your digital assets to the latest, greatest versions of software available.

Use Case for Racemi or AppZero Migration Tools

If you have the technical skills, don’t mind putting in the effort and want to give these tools a try to kickstart the migration process, they’re certainly worth a shot. The process will require quite a bit of manual work in testing, troubleshooting, data synchronization, and of course performing the go-live event. Unfortunately, these tools only work with very limited Windows/Linux OS distributions, and only automate the data migration – which is actually the easiest part of most migration projects. The real time and effort is generally expended in troubleshooting migration related issues, and performing a smooth go-live event.

If you’re a good programmer, and/or have an on-staff technical team at the ready, usually these issues can be worked through manually in order to complete the work that AppZero and Racemi tools cannot.

AppZero and Racemi – The Verdict

When these tools themselves fail to complete a migration, the general policy (even published on at least one of these provider websites) is to simply issue a refund, and then push you into a professional services engagement on either an either hourly or per-ticket paid basis.

Bottom line: While the solutions offered by AppZero and Racemi can perform a full migration in extremely limited and very basic migration use cases, they simply do not fully automate the migration process.

Buyer beware – make sure to read ALL the fine print before trying one of the AppZero or Racemi migration tools.

WSM Migration Automation Tools

While we do use our own proprietary migration automation tools in certain cases to reduce the time required to perform a migration, our scripts are not commercially available for purchase at this time for the simple reason that we choose not to market the concept of a ‘fully automated migration’ – when that concept is far from reality as we’ve proven here.

That said, WSM will soon be releasing automated migration tools that will fill gaps that other providers haven’t figured out yet, at a price point well under what you see today for inferior products. Stay tuned for more details on these tools in future press releases.

In the meantime, WSM is frequently called on to perform a migration for customers who have started off using automated migration tools, but have been unable to complete the migration because the vendor of the tool they bought did not effectively explain its limitations, as well as the level of technical effort that’s required to actually complete a migration.

If you need to avoid the failure risk of automated migration tools on the market today, give WSM a call at 888-899-7940 ext. 1 or email Simply put, our migration process is completely guaranteed – no fine print and no limitations like you’ll find with the automated tools currently on the market.

Would you like to migrate to Limestone Networks? Check out this amazing offer: Learn more.