time13 min read

7 Data Migration Risks and How to Avoid Them

time13 min read

Data migration is an essential part of a company’s software modernization. It helps businesses to remain competitive, reduce long-run IT maintenance costs, improve efficiency and security, reduce technical debt, and much more.

Although it is a common process, migration comes with a number of risks and challenges. In order to prevent failure and to benefit fully from this process, it is crucial to consider the obstacles that you might have to deal with throughout.

In this article, we will explore 7 typical data migration risks, as well as share 7 tips on how to handle these risks based on our own experience. This knowledge will help prevent your business from making errors and losing overplanned resources during the migration process.

How Does Technical Debt Impact Businesses?

Data migration is common for the process of application modernization, which helps companies modernize legacy applications and deal with technical debt.

Tech debt itself can cause disruptions to core business operations for 81% of companies, which denies them the use of newer technologies. Moreover, 10 – 20% of a company’s technology budget is diverted to repaying tech debt.

data migration challenges

Technical debt causes declines in productivity, negative user experience, weakened security, reduced agility and innovation, budget overruns, longer time-to-market, and more. Although having some tech debt is normal as it provides short-term gains in development speed, its long-term consequences can be detrimental to a business. This is why data migration is especially important for application modernization purposes.

Read more: How to Migrate a Legacy Application to the Cloud: 5 Do’s and Don’ts

7 Top Risks of Data Migration

There are numerous challenges in data migration that can negatively impact the project’s outcome. The 7 risks that our team is familiar with are: data loss, data incompatibility, performance slowdown, database overload, data synching, database differences, and manual interferences.

data migration risks

Data Loss

Data loss is an extremely common problem and is impossible to avoid no matter how experienced the IT team is or how thoroughly the migration project is planned before execution. It can occur due to format incompatibilities, hardware or software failures, proper data validation, security measures such as firewalls or access controls, network interference, etc.

Because the data can be strongly interconnected, it is important for the client and service provider to communicate constantly and for stakeholders to assess which data is essential and which can be deleted.

Data Incompatibility

When migrating data to a new system or platform, there may be differences in data formats, structures, or requirements that need to be addressed in order to ensure compliance with relevant regulations and standards.

If, for example, the task is to migrate the data from an older platform to the new one, there is often a problem of older data being incompatible with the new platform’s requirements. In order to prevent severe loss and move successfully, the IT team must collect the data, discover all the dependencies between attributes, and move according to those.Vladislav Soia, QA engineer

Incompatibility can also occur if the business’ policies do not fully match with laws and regulations like GDPR or CCPA. Then, the IT team must conduct a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) and work on access controls, encryption, obtain the needed consents from data subjects, etc.

Performance Slowdown

The data migration process involves transferring large volumes of data from one system or location to another. Sometimes, especially when developers migrate the data to a completely new platform, it can slow down performance.

Maven’s team had a similar experience. Our developers had to migrate to a completely new website, which had problems with cache, database requests, and service optimization. To set it up, the team measured performance using tools like WebPageTest, New Relic, or PHP tan() function. Based on the analysis of key indicators, they optimized the back- and front-end codebases. After this process, some of the categories loaded in 2-3 seconds instead of 18, and the entire website improved in performance.Vladislav Soia, QA engineer

Database Overload

An important data migration risk that organizations may face is database overload. It can lead to performance issues, downtime, and potential data corruption or loss if not managed properly. Some reasons for overload may be unoptimized queries, insufficient computing resources, the destination database serving concurrent users and applications while the migration occurs, etc.

Once, our client’s database was loaded at 99%, even if their visitor count was small, and it was hard to understand why. After thorough analysis and testing, we found the problem inside the database and solved it just by adding 5 indexes to the system. They served as markers for searching through the data, kind of like when people add sticky notes throughout the book to find specific passages later. The result was impressive: the load dropped from 99% to 5% immediately.Nazar Nigmatullin, DevOps engineer
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Data Synchronization

Data syncing is required to ensure data integrity and prevent data inconsistency between the old and new systems. If not handled properly, it can cause data loss and inappropriate resource utilization, which can ultimately lead to budget overruns and reputational damage.

Sometimes, in order to avoid business disruptions, the IT team must stay alert and be ready to deal with issues 24/7. Maven Solutions had a similar experience:

With data synchronization, you cannot always see the errors right away. For example, one of our clients needed to work on customer address unification. The bugs and errors were impossible to notice at first glance. Once spotted, however, they needed to be fixed immediately, as there was a risk of customer order placement blocking. This is why we always monitored the website and were ready to solve critical tasks whenever they appeared.Igor Ladanovskiy, backend developer

Database Differences

Every database stores information differently. Two systems can have schema mismatches, database platform differences, divergent referential integrity constraints, and other issues. If not handled correctly, the differences can pose significant challenges and may result in data loss, corruption, or incomplete migration.

Once, we needed to establish the connections of some attributes to the others, while those were totally different. For example, the main identifier at the old website was product code, and at the new one, stock keeping unit. Some of the products already had the stock keeping unit, but we couldn’t create duplicates with code being the only difference between them. This is why we proceeded with the mapping process, matched them, and created the new products where matching was impossible.Anna Velihina, service delivery manager

Manual Interference

When many different people have access to the data control, including both IT professionals and business stakeholders, it can lead to errors, inconsistencies, time constraints, and potential data loss. A lack of understanding between the client and provider, incomplete documentation, and a lack of adequate logging or recording of manual actions, can also be the causes of failure.

Once, I worked on a website where all of the customers with access to the builder reset the existing cache automatically when they logged in. This negatively impacted the website’s performance and was a significant problem. We fixed it by working with a PHP code and limiting some users with access to the website in their technical abilities.Vladislav Soia, QA engineer

How to Deal with Data Migration Risks? 7 Pieces of Advice From The Experts

Knowing how to deal with the challenges of data migration is the first crucial step to receiving a successful outcome. Having years of experience with data migration and application modernization, the tips we want to share are: to plan and communicate properly, constantly execute test runs, migrate at non-peak hours, have a backup plan, make the process as simple as possible, and accept what is inevitable.

data migration risks

Plan Your Migration Process

Fail to plan and you plan to fail. A solid data migration strategy should include the assessment of data and platforms, potential risks assessment with ways to mitigate it, clearly defined scope and objectives, a detailed data mapping plan, resource allocation and timing information, responsibilities assignment, etc. It should also include rules of action logging and security laws compliance.

By approaching the planning with full dedication, businesses can minimize the aforementioned migration risks and increase the chances of a successful outcome.

With data migration, there are 2 important rules of planning. First, even if you think that you have enough time for migration – start planning and executing what can be executed right away. Second, if you can decompose the big task into smaller ones – do it.Serhii Kopeikin, COO at Maven Solutions

Communicate Properly

Transparent communication and mutual understanding are probably the most important factors influencing teamwork outcomes. Inadequate communication can lead to delays in time, more bugs and errors, budget overruns, and failed expectations.

To satisfy everyone’s expectations, keeping everyone informed and discussing prioritized actions before doing them cannot be stressed enough.

The more detailed technical task IT professionals have, the quicker and better result they can deliver. This is why it is our responsibility to ask a lot of questions and communicate to receive the information needed for work.

Also, the more people that work on scalable tasks like data syncing, the quicker and easier it is to solve problems, as there are different professionals proposing solutions from different points of view. However, this is more expensive for the client.Igor Ladanovskiy, backend developer

Do Test Runs

This cannot be stressed enough, but constant testing is a must. We advise organizations to closely monitor the data transformation, mapping, and validation processes. It is important to verify that the data is correctly transferred to the new system and that it matches the expected outcome.

Pay special attention to data quality and integrity, and ensure that the migrated data aligns with the source data accurately. If your business has mission-critical data, the IT team could reproduce the migration process without launching it live yet. This will help ensure the consistency of data models and tests to ensure that nothing will be lost in the process.

Using automation wherever you can is extremely helpful. For example, to measure the website’s performance, our QA engineer launched testing, which imitated real customers visiting the website. I checked the results with different variations of customers and timing, and we were able to quickly find out what to optimize, spending less time and delivering better results.Nazar Nigmatullin, DevOps engineer
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Don’t Overcomplicate

Data migration can be a complex and daunting process, but it’s crucial not to overcomplicate matters unnecessarily. Overcomplication can lead to confusion, errors, and a higher likelihood of data loss or corruption.

Sometimes, changing the code is easier and more efficient than interfering with data loads. If there is a way to make the process simpler without affecting the quality of the outcome, do it.Vladislav Soia, QA engineer

Additionally, resist the temptation to include unnecessary or redundant data during migration, as it only increases the workload and prolongs the process. Prioritize the essential data that needs to be migrated to maintain efficiency and data accuracy.

Involving too many stakeholders or teams in the migration process can lead to confusion and miscommunication too. Establish a well-defined team with clear responsibilities and ensure effective collaboration between them.

Migrate at Non-Peak Hours

It would be better to either make the migration process independent from timing or migrate at non-peak hours when there is less user traffic and application activity. This allows the migration process to operate more efficiently and with fewer performance bottlenecks. It also provides more room for any unforeseen events that may arise during migration without significantly affecting end-users or critical business processes.

If your organization is global, it is important to consider time zone differences to ensure the least disruptive migration for all regions.

Find out about 5 Legacy System Migration Challenges Can Turn Your Modernization Project Into A Nightmare

Have a Backup Plan

Having a backup plan or a rollback strategy is extremely important in case things do not go according to plan. It provides the confidence and assurance needed to effectively navigate potential challenges.

Some key elements that the backup plan could include are backups frequency, retention policy, verification, storage and security, documentation, etc.

Accept the Inevitable

It is important to understand that not all the data can be transferred, and you cannot foresee every possible issue. Even with thorough planning, high expertise, and effective communication, some data can be lost or damaged. The only advice here is to determine priorities and choose which data could be omitted.

With all the risks of data migration, being flexible and adjusting the management helps avoid data loss and solve many other problems. Thus, some outcomes of data migration may not match your initial plans, and that has to be accepted as well.Serhii Kopeikin, COO at Maven Solutions
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Data migration is a complex process that helps reduce technical debt and benefit from application modernization. However, it also comes with risks of data loss, performance slowdown, data incompatibility, database overloads and differences, data synchronization, and manual interferences.

To deal with data migration challenges and risks, it is important to plan and communicate properly, perform constant testing, migrate at non-peak hours, have a backup plan, simplify the process, and accept what is inevitable.

If you are looking for a service provider to help you overcome data migration challenges and migrate successfully, Maven Solutions can be just the perfect partner for that matter. After 13 years of working with businesses of different niches (e.g., Travel, Fashion, Goods for children, Food, Logistics, and Branded products) and sizes (e.g., from startups to Fortune 500 and the Inc. 5000), we earned the trust of many companies, most of which continue long-term cooperation with us. Contact us to talk about your business case.


Why is data migration difficult?

Data migration can be difficult for several reasons. These include data’s complexity, volume, quality, security and privacy, resource and time constraints, and application and system compatibility.

How do you mitigate the risk of data migration?

To mitigate the risk of migration, we advise thoroughly planning and communicating through the migration process, constantly testing, having a backup plan, simplifying the process where possible, and migrating at non-peak hours.

What are the disadvantages of data migration?

During the migration process, there is a risk of data loss, business disruptions, security and privacy issues, and integration challenges. Migration can also be costly and time-consuming. However, with the right plan and approach, these challenges can be significantly minimized.

Why do data migrations fail?

There are many reasons for data migration failure. Some of these are insufficient planning, lack of testing, compatibility issues, lack of resources, incorrect data mapping, etc.

What is the impact of data migration?

Data migration can lead to adopting new and more efficient systems, resulting in improved efficiency, enhanced data quality, cost savings, business agility, security improvements, etc.

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