To migrate in computing means:

  • (verb Int or Tr) to ​begin using a new ​computer ​system, or to ​move ​information from one ​type of ​system to another.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

According to Ngram (computer migration, software migration) are expressions which have been used from the 70's, a few decades later after the expression "computer system" entered into usage Ngram (computer system).

Etymonline entries for migration and migrate do not give any suggestion about this usage.

When were the terms migrate/migration first applied to computers? And who (person/computer house) first used that expression?

  • 2
    Probably about 1965. There is nothing particularly special about how the word is used in computerdom (other than it's treated as an active verb), and it would have been used shamelessly the first time someone needed to move data from one computer to another.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 19, 2015 at 13:40
  • @HotLicks - we are so used to the term it that does not sound 'special'. I think some 50 years ago it was quite unusual in the tech sector.
    – user66974
    Dec 19, 2015 at 13:43
  • 1
    50 years ago everything was "unusual". Every situation required new terminology, and techies got used to inventing new terms on the fly, with very little consideration for the long term (and certainly no one documented the "invention" of such new usages).
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 19, 2015 at 13:47
  • 1
    OED's earliest citation is from 1980, so Google Ngrams seems to have got the better of them.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 19, 2015 at 14:14
  • 2
    @AndrewL - There aren't many pre-1980 hits, and some of them may have not made good samples of usage. Thumbing through some of the results, I noticed some hits span two sentences: simulation of an entire river basin will be impractical (on a GE415 computer). Migration of salinity in the Hudson River estuary was simulated... I did spot this one from 1968: Such display is also available with automatic computer migration of the data. The word "computer" in there might well be omitted nowadays.
    – J.R.
    Dec 19, 2015 at 15:09

1 Answer 1


The term migration has been applied to the transfer of information both in connection with "data migration" and in connection with "computer migration" since at least the 1960s. One interesting early instance is from Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science (1969) [combined snippets]:

Migration. In order to maintain this high level of access (90%) against such a small quantity (35Í) of the Data Bank, a system of data migration will be used. This migration will also make most effective use of these various devices. The migration of records either up or down the various levels of storage will be based upon accumulated usage--the 'number of accesses against each individual record. This migration system will be low in priority and will normally occur during slack periods.

Earlier still are a couple of instances of "computer migration." From Petroleum Abstracts, volume 8, issues 36–52 (1968) [combined snippets]:

A time-varying grading threshold is employed to limit the number of reflection segments which are output to an automatic plotter or carried for subsequent processing such as computer migration.

From Technical Survey, volume 24 (1968):

Digital processing of geophysical data enters period of refinement: "convent" (coherent-event display) makes use of picking techniques to display a "picked" section, which may be picked according to continuity of event, amplitude, or both. Such display is also available with automatic computer migration of the data. The process is used as an interpretive aid. The trend away from use of dynamite as a seismic source and toward use of weights, vibrators, etc, should place an increasing load on in-field processing, etc (Oil & Gas J, 2/19, p68–70).

The notion of migrating data to different storage or computing devices evidently goes back at least to the late 1960s, and it may be even older. Two of the oldest Google Books matches come from the petroleum industry, but there is far too little data to support any broader conclusion about the role that industry may have played in the early days of data and computer migration.


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