The Truth is Out There: The Data Discovery Process

A new approach to the data discovery process that will give you a centralized view of your IT environment

by Dave Boudreau.

A new approach to the data discovery process that will give you a centralized view of your IT environment and lay the groundwork for a successful migration project.

So, you are planning a migration. Some of the most common questions that keep IT managers on edge when a migration event is on their horizon are:

  • Where do you start?
  • How can you validate that the information you have is correct?
  • As the project evolves, how do you ensure the information you have gathered is current?
  • How can all this information be organized and available when the time comes?

Let’s examine the steps of the discovery process leading up to the event and some of the strategies that can provide structure and reassurance.

1. Where Do You Start?

The first step is to analyze the methodology you will be using, and which migration software will be meet the needs of the project. The end goal is to fully understand how each asset interacts with the others. For instance, if one application and its infrastructure were to be migrated, you would also need to understand its dependencies and the possibility of shared infrastructure.

The discovery process begins by gathering information from every source possible. This information could come from auto discovery tools, spreadsheets, or even a small note written on the back of a business card. Whatever the source, the goal is to gather as much relevant information about the environment as possible. Doing so will save significant time in the discovery validation process.

In the case of a migration project, the most pertinent information will be things like application dependencies, maintenance windows, and criticality, to name a few. Prior to beginning your discovery process, guidelines about exactly which data points need to be collected, validated, and maintained should be established.

2. Data Sources

There are many auto discovery tools in existence today that provide users with data about their infrastructure—too much data, in fact. The details provided by these tools are granular and may not have any bearing on the specific task at hand. This amount of data can be overwhelming and unnecessary for your project, but these tools can still provide a good starting point. Additional validation that the data received is both accurate and as expected will be required in order to use this information to generate and execute a plan.

The Configuration Management Database, or CMDB, is another common source when beginning to gather information for your project. However, the data in this document should be a real-time snapshot of how the infrastructure operates and communicates. In my experience, however, it rarely is.

Problems arise when this data is not reported accurately or in a timely manner. I have worked with numerous clients that have devices listed on their CMDBs that should have been decommissioned more than 10 years ago. If the CMDB is fed by auto discovery tools there are often duplicate records with unique identifiers. This creates redundant dependency information and may set false expectations about the size and scope of a project.

3. Validation Process

Once all relevant IT data is collected, it is time to talk to the application owners and subject matter experts (SME) to validate the information you have gathered. These are the folks that interact with the application and its infrastructure daily and will be able to provide all the necessary details.

Your employees have a lot on their plates and a migration event is additional work on top of their already demanding schedules. That is why the pre-interview discovery steps of data collection are critical, so that the time required of each SME to discuss their application is spent effectively to only validate and uncover data needed for the event.

Taking time to explain the interview process and exactly what intelligence you will be looking for will prepare the SMEs and make the most use of the time spent in these interviews. Another reason that the SME interview is so helpful is that that not all information can be scanned for with automated tools, and the tribal knowledge about an application is just as important as the automated discovery information.

These interviews often reveal previously unknown migration factors like scheduled upgrades, decommissioning of older assets, or operational limitations that would go unknown using other methods of discovery and validation. When all interviews are completed, a single source of truth can be used to create a strategy based on valid and current and actionable information that will limit impact and mitigate risk to the business.

4. Choosing Migration Software

The days of using spreadsheets to track the progress of a migration project are long gone. The data is complex and volatile, making maintaining an accurate and current data set near impossible using this method.

There are powerful migration software tools designed to manage specific aspects of the project or navigate through the entire process. Your choice of migration software should be made by establishing the requirements of the project.

The tools you select should enable organization and understanding of data, ETL capabilities and the most updated information is available and quickly integrated, tools to measure progress and organize tasks during and before migration events, and provide the ability to be malleable enough to meet the specific needs of your company’s project. These tools provide the pathway to a successful event and make an overwhelming task more manageable.

5. What it all Means

Unraveling the ball of yarn that is your infrastructure is a daunting but mandatory step before undertaking any type of migration. There is no silver bullet for data collection and each project will have a unique set of demands. The steps above help to identify common mistakes and establish a strategy for creating a solid foundation.

Once you Identify and follow a methodology for discovery and pair it with powerful migration software, you will have established a solid foundation for success and limit your organization’s exposure to the risk of overruns, outages and project failures.


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