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Avoid the temptation to "Lift and Shift"

Updated: May 22, 2023

"Lift-and-shift" is a term used to describe the process of taking an existing application and moving it from one environment to another, without making any changes to the application itself.

While this approach may seem like a good idea, it's often a costly mistake. Just check out the value proposition visuals below to see why!

Like any good business decision, the outcome should build business value.

Lift-and-shifts take a long time, require a lot of investment, and involve a lot of planning. This means that the return on investment can take 5-10 years to realize, and many never see it. Does that sound like value to you?

Take into account the potential disruption and downtime to critical business applications that people already rely on, and the lift-and-shift approach starts to look quite stormy.

The value proposition of Lift and Shift

The value proposition of a typical lift-and-shift looks like this:

A lift and shift approach value proposition.  The chart shows a high cost to migrate, with a low year over year savings.
Value proposition of the lift-and-shift approach

The cost of the migration far outweighs the yearly savings in almost every case. This means it takes many years to pay back the migration cost.

The revenue doesn't change with this model, because no business value is added. It's a cost savings exercise to move what you have to a hopefully cheaper hosting model.

But what if the migration fails to realize any cost savings? Do you go through another costly migration to move everything back?!

Charts showing the cost of migration, and then costs of the backout plan, if your cloud lift-and-shift fails.
The costs of a failed lift-and-shift approach

The investment isn't looking great on paper. Large upfront cost, no revenue increase, and then a risk of another large upfront cost if it fails to save money.

A better approach

A better approach is to enable new cloud-native applications first. This gives teams the opportunity to learn from mistakes, mature operations, and focus on innovation that drives business growth - without the added risk of disrupting critical business processes.

And it's that business growth that you want - especially with the today's pace of technological advancements. It's becoming harder than ever to differentiate yourself from the competition. Innovating through cloud technology is one way to get ahead fast.

The innovation approach looks more like this:

Showing the slight cost increase of cloud innovation, compared with potential revenue growth
Value proposition of the innovation approach

There's a relatively small initial cost increase for the additional resources to add new capabilities, but typically a larger increase in revenue - after all, why add new tech capabilities if they won't generate some kind of value?

But what happens if the first few innovative apps fail to return value? Simple - turn it all off. The risk to the business is significantly lower than a lift-and-shift, and the potential gains are MUCH higher. This sounds more like an investment we can get behind!

A chart showing the losses when backing out of the innovation approach as much lower than a lift-and-shift
The costs of a failed innovation approach


I strongly urge organizations to consider the value of innovation before investing in a lift-and-shift initiative. By focusing on innovation first, organizations can quickly achieve their goals with less rework, lower costs, and more opportunities for growth.

It gives you a lower risk option for testing out cloud capabilities, and the cloud maturity you will gain will set you up for success if you do decide a lift-and-shift is in your best interests later on.

Book a time with us to discuss your cloud journey and receive honest advice on how to get the most value out of public cloud platforms. We help our clients increase revenue by innovating with the latest cloud technology securely.

Further Reading

This article was Part 8 of our “9 things C-Suite executives need to know about Public Cloud” series.

Also, check out this great article by David Linthicum on the lift-and-shift approach!

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