Migration strategy for relational databases - AWS Prescriptive Guidance

Migration strategy for relational databases

Yaser Raja, Amazon Web Services (AWS)

June 2024 (document history)

In your enterprise portfolio, you are likely to have multiple types of databases. When you migrate to Amazon Web Services (AWS), you can choose to do a “lift and shift” of your databases (rehost) or modernize your applications by switching to AWS managed database services (replatform).

If you choose to rehost your database, AWS provides a number of services and tools that can help you securely move, store and analyze your data. If you choose to switch to an AWS managed database service, AWS offers a multitude of options so you never have to trade off functionality, performance, or scale. For more information about the AWS family of databases, see Databases on AWS on the AWS website.

This document focuses on strategies for migrating relational databases to the AWS Cloud, for IT and business executives, program or project managers, product owners, and operations/infrastructure managers who are planning to migrate their on-premises databases to AWS.


The best database migration strategy enables you to take full advantage of the AWS Cloud. This involves migrating your applications to use purpose-built, cloud-native databases. You shouldn’t limit yourself to the same old-guard database that you have been using on premises. Instead, consider modernizing your applications and choose the databases that best suit your applications’ workflow requirements.

Many enterprises have adopted this approach. For example, Airbnb needed to quickly process and analyze 50 GB of data daily. They needed a key-value database to store user search history for quick lookups that enabled personalized search, an in-memory data store to store session state for faster (sub-millisecond) site rendering, and a relational database as their primary transactional database. They chose Amazon DynamoDB as their key-value database, Amazon ElastiCache as their in-memory store, and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for their transactional database. For more information about how Airbnb is using AWS database services, see the Airbnb case study.

Database migration strategy is tied closely to your organization’s overarching cloud strategy. For example, if you choose to first transition your applications and then transform them, you might decide to lift and shift your database first. When you are fully in the AWS Cloud, you start working to modernize your application. This strategy can help you exit out of your current data centers quickly, and then focus on modernization.

Your database migration is tightly coupled with your application migration. All database migration strategies involve some level of changes to the applications that use those databases. These changes range from pointing to the new location of the database in the AWS Cloud to a total rewrite of the application, if it can’t be changed because the source code isn’t available, or it’s a closed-source, third-party application.