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On-Prem to Cloud Migrations: Comparing Greenfield vs. Brownfield

/ by Eric Sanders

Man pointing to screen that says migration to the Cloud

When you plan an on-prem to cloud migration, you have several strategic options to choose from. The two main approaches to cloud migration are known as greenfield and brownfield, and choosing which one is right for your organization is one of the first steps in any major migration.

What Do Greenfield and Brownfield Mean?

The terms “greenfield” and “brownfield” are used in a variety of industries to refer to differing strategic approaches to development. “Greenfield” typically refers to ground-up projects, while “brownfield” projects are built around previously developed structures.

[Contact us to learn which cloud migration approach will benefit your organization.]

In the Cloud migration space, greenfield and brownfield strategies describe what amount of legacy on-prem infrastructure one holds on to post-migration.

With a greenfield strategy, a whole new infrastructure is built in the Cloud using a public, private, or hybrid model. Then data, operating systems, and applications are transferred to this new infrastructure in their entirety.

A brownfield strategy, on the other hand, only involves moving some functions from one system to the other. Often, proprietary systems that are difficult to replicate or those that hold particularly sensitive information will be kept on-prem during a brownfield migration.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these approaches. Let’s take a detailed look at each:

Advantages of Greenfield

  • Customizable: The greenfield approach means your cloud infrastructure is totally customizable. That gives project leaders the ability to shake off old limitations and build a solution that eliminates existing problems related to performance, usability, and more.
  • Scalable: One of the key advantages of the Cloud is the ability to increase and decrease storage and computing capacity as your business scales. That means you’re ready for major growth or downsizing in the long term, as well as the smaller ups and downs that many organizations deal with constantly.
  • Compatible: By designing an ecosystem from scratch, you can skip over the time-consuming process of ensuring ongoing compatibility between cloud and legacy systems.
  • Optimized: IT departments are traditionally viewed as a necessary cost expenditure, rather than a potential revenue generator. Greenfield migration allows IT departments to strategically optimize their new infrastructure to present needs, freeing up more time for IT staff to focus on revenue-driving activities.
  • Innovative: Public cloud providers innovate much faster than your in-house team possibly could with on-prem infrastructure. A greenfield migration lets you take full advantage of the innovation that cloud providers roll out on a regular basis.

Disadvantages of Greenfield

  • Costly: For SMBs who operate on a tight budget, greenfield migration simply might not be an option. A full migration to the Cloud costs money and requires personnel with extremely specialized skills.
  • Unfamiliar: Learning how to use a new cloud infrastructure will likely involve some growing pains. While your cloud system should be designed to model the functionality of your legacy systems, it’s probably not going to match up 100%.
  • Transformative: Migrating your systems to the cloud can have wide-ranging effects throughout your organization. Your operating model and the responsibilities of employees will change. You’ll have different maintenance, network, and security needs. In addition, you’ll need to develop new strategies for requesting and consuming storage and computing resources. For some companies, this requires establishing a cloud center of excellence (CCoE) to build guardrails around the Cloud in order to control spend and manage operations.

Advantages of Brownfield

  • Familiar: Learning how to manage and use a whole new infrastructure requires time, resources, and patience. When part of your infrastructure is made up of legacy components, you have the distinct advantage of familiarity.
  • Affordable: Migrating only certain operations to the Cloud can cost a fraction of the price of migrating everything. A mixed on-prem/cloud solution can be far more affordable in the short term.
  • Simple: Developing cloud-based infrastructure that can handle complex functions requires time and know-how. Anything placed into a cloud environment must work within its infrastructure. Brownfield strategies can address these complex problems by simply continuing to use existing on-prem infrastructure for certain elements.

Disadvantages of Brownfield

  • Limited: Brownfield migrations sometimes carry over existing limitations that originated in the legacy infrastructure.
  • Rigid: The Cloud gives businesses the opportunity to grow and shrink storage and computing capacity as the organization scales. On-prem systems, on the other hand, come with finite limitations that can inhibit growth over time. Companies that plan for growth might overspend on on-prem capacity that they don’t end up needing. Those that don’t plan for growth need weeks or months of lead time to approve, purchase, install, and configure new on-prem resources.

Different stakeholders will have different opinions on the benefits of greenfield and brownfield migrations, so it’s important for business leaders to maintain objectivity. Greenfield migration might sound wonderful when discussing options with a cloud provider who has a financial imperative to upsell you into a bigger, better cloud package. On the other hand, your IT leadership may be hesitant to use a greenfield strategy due to their own unfamiliarity with cloud systems.

Shifting from your legacy system to the Cloud involves a fair amount of risk. When making a big decision like this, it’s important to do your homework. There’s no right answer for every organization, and neither greenfield or brownfield is an inherently better choice—what’s important is that you determine what’s right for your unique situation.

Learn more about securely migrating operations to the Cloud. Contact us! 

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