Cloud Migration vs. Cloud Transformation: What's the Difference, Exactly?

Here's why you need to know the difference between cloud migration and cloud transformation — and when to use each strategy.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology analyst

October 24, 2023

4 Min Read
person taking an escalator to a cloud

Cloud migration and cloud transformation might sound like pretty similar processes — and they are. They both involve moving workloads into the cloud and taking advantage of cloud services in ways that benefit your business.

But like many seemingly interchangeable technical terms, cloud migration and cloud transformation refer to distinct types of operations. Understanding the differences is important for deciding which approach to take when increasing your organization's use of the cloud.

Keep reading for a look at the similarities and differences between cloud migration and cloud transformation, along with tips on which type of strategy to pursue when.

What Is Cloud Migration?

Cloud migration is the process of moving workloads from an on-premises environment to the cloud. Typically, organizations undertake cloud migration when they decide that they can increase the reliability, scalability, or cost-efficiency of their workloads by hosting them in a cloud platform rather than using their own infrastructure.

Cloud migration often involves some level of workload reconfiguration; for example, you might migrate to a different operating system when you move on-prem virtual machines to the cloud so that you can use a type of OS that your cloud provider actively supports.

Related:5 Considerations for Migrating Data to the Cloud

However, with cloud migration, workload reconfiguration is typically limited. The goal of cloud migration is to replicate on-prem workloads within the cloud, not to rebuild the workloads from the ground up.

What Is Cloud Transformation?

Cloud transformation is the process of making your business cloud-centric by taking full advantage of modern cloud services.

Thus, when you perform a cloud transformation, you don't just move on-prem workloads into the cloud. You redesign and transform (hence the term "cloud transformation") those workloads to optimize them for the cloud. You might refactor a monolithic application to run as microservices so that it can operate more efficiently in distributed cloud environments, for example.

At the same time, from a strategic perspective, cloud transformation means making the cloud the default approach to meeting your business's technological requirements. In other words, you don't just turn to the cloud when it's convenient while keeping some workloads on-prem; you move as completely into the cloud as possible.

Related:5 Best Practices for Optimizing Costs During Cloud Migration

What Do Cloud Migration and Transformation Share in Common?

Cloud migration and transformation are similar in that they both involve moving workloads into the cloud to take advantage of the scalability, flexibility, and efficiency of cloud environments. Both processes also have the result of making businesses more dependent on third-party cloud platforms to meet their infrastructure needs.

And they both require organizations to rethink their approaches to processes like security and observability in order to address the unique challenges of the cloud.

Cloud Migration vs. Cloud Transformation: The Key Differences

But in other ways, there are clear differences between cloud migration and cloud transformation:

  • Extent of changes: Cloud transformation entails more extensive changes to workloads as you move them into the cloud. You might change the entire architecture of your applications, for example. In contrast, with cloud migration, you typically "lift and shift" workloads into the cloud, with minimal reconfiguration effort.

  • Level of difficulty: Cloud migration is simpler and requires less cloud expertise than cloud migration.

  • Speed and timeline: You can typically pull off a cloud migration faster than a cloud transformation, due to the lower level of changes involved.

  • Strategy and culture: As noted above, cloud transformation reorients your business toward a cloud-first approach. Cloud migration also entails making greater use of the cloud, but it doesn't profoundly change the way your IT organization thinks and operates.

In short, cloud migration is a simpler process than cloud transformation. But migration also may reduce your ability to capitalize fully on the cloud because, unlike cloud transformation, migration doesn't entail a complete shift in way of thinking or extensive reconfiguration of workloads.

What to Use When

If you want to move workloads into the cloud as quickly as possible to reduce the burden of managing on-prem infrastructure and workloads, a cloud migration will allow you to do that. But if you're seeking a deeper level of change — one that allows your business to optimize its use of the cloud — a cloud transformation is the path to get there.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

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