Does the term migration typically imply to or from?

For instance, if I refer to a specific database migration project, where the database is Oracle, would "Oracle migration" refer to:

  1. migrating from another database to Oracle
  2. migrating from Oracle to another database
  3. migrating from one version of Oracle to a different version of Oracle

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    It's ambiguous, but I'd first interpret it to mean the migration between versions of Oracle. – Hot Licks Oct 17 at 12:13
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    It means none of these things. In and of itself it means the migration of oracles. Not to oracles, not from oracles, but of oracles. People who predict the future, moving from one place to another. For it to get to mean anything to do with computers, you'll need a whole bunch of context already. And while you're doing that anyway, you might as well go the whole nine yards and clarify all the other things that can use clarification. – RegDwigнt Oct 17 at 13:38
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    Just to add to the ambiguity, a business article entitled "Oracle Migration" could refer to an exodus of Oracle Corporation employees to find other employment. – Michael J. Oct 17 at 16:23
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    The same way we resolve all ambiguity. Context! (rainbow emoji) – Tezra Oct 17 at 18:19
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a domain specific question, not a general EL&U question. – jimm101 Oct 17 at 18:54

10 Answers 10

up vote 46 down vote accepted

It is ambiguous...

On the one hand, it may be about migrating data to Oracle. On the other hand, it may be about migrating data from Oracle. It can also be about migrating to and from Oracle. And which meaning is the most correct depends on the context. If we only have 2 words, Oracle Migration, I really don't know which thing is meant.

By the way, before posting my answer, I asked a very good software engineer about what he thinks about it, and he said the same thing - it's ambiguous.

So, context is everything.

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    When I read "Oracle Migration" my first thought was some type of bird and how they migrate. As an edit, I guess I am not the only one as this is an answer. – Jordan.J.D Oct 17 at 16:32
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    Wait was he an engineer of very good software or a software engineer that was very good? – mowwwalker Oct 17 at 21:08
  • @mowwwalker he is a software engineer that is very good. – Enguroo Oct 17 at 23:07
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    All joking aside, as a software engineer, I agree that it's ambiguous, but the "migration to Oracle" interpretation is more likely than "migration from Oracle." However it could also mean migrating Oracle databases from one server to another, or from one Oracle version to another. – LarsH Oct 18 at 0:33
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    As a very good engineer of terrible software, I agree with @LarsH – JollyJoker Oct 18 at 7:35

A fourth interpretation might be that Oracle itself is migrating

Bird migration takes place seasonally

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    True, I thought it was about traveling fortune tellers. – James Oct 17 at 11:44
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    SELECT Coconut FROM Mercia WHERE IsMigratory(Coconut); – Robert Columbia Oct 17 at 11:45
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    @RobertColumbia ORA-06500: PL/SQL: storage error – OnoSendai Oct 17 at 13:39
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    This is what I had in mind, about a bird I have never heard of. – Jordan.J.D Oct 17 at 16:33

If I saw "Oracle Migration" as the subject of an email about an upcoming meeting, I would probably assume that it was about migrating TO Oracle. However, it is definitely not 100% clear without any other context.

Source- I am a native speaker and a software engineer.

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    +1 - But, if your employer uses Oracle already, the subject reads as migration FROM Oracle. Source: I'm a software engineer and we're currently migrating from Oracle to MongoDB. =) – OnoSendai Oct 17 at 13:35
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    To add to the confusion even more, it could be about migrating Oracle databases from one platform to another. Source: Also a software engineer and working on migrating customers from HP3000s to Linux servers. – Roger Sinasohn Oct 17 at 16:41
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    My assumption would be based largely on whether or not we already used Oracle... If we didn't I'd assume it was TO. If we did, I'd assume it was either to a)a different version b)a different platform c)a different type of db. If I worked in a different field I might assume it was migration of actual Oracles (or you had misspelled Orioles) – aslum Oct 17 at 18:29
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    I agree with @OnoSendai - it's ambiguous without context. I could easily and equally interpret it as migration either to or from Oracle. – only_pro Oct 17 at 18:43
  • I am also a software engineer. This activity would describe (for example) migrating from SQL Server TO Oracle. Going from one version of Oracle to another would be "upgrading" Oracle. Moving Oracle from one server to another would be a "server migration". So its a little ambiguous but I think "migrate to Oracle" is most likely. – vikingsteve Oct 18 at 11:40

It is ambiguous.

Without more context it is not clear what "Oracle" refers to.

As per the OED, "oracle" is defined as:

A priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity.

However, there is also "Oracle Corporation" which Wikipedia describes as:

[A]n American multinational computer technology corporation headquartered in Redwood Shores, California. The company specializes primarily in developing and marketing database software and technology, cloud engineered systems, and enterprise software products — particularly its own brands of database management systems.

As other answers have expounded upon, it might be reasonable to conclude that "Migration" refers to a data migration or scheme migration specific to an Oracle (Corporation) Database. However, without any context confirming that "Oracle" is referring to a computer database, that meaning is not clear.

Consider this definition of migration:

Movement of people to a new area or country in order to find work or better living conditions.

For many non-technical individuals (or individuals who do not recall that a company named Oracle exists), they may only understand "Oracle" by the dictionary definition. In that case, the title suggests that one or more priests are relocating.

It could also mean a migration within an Oracle database. In that case it would mean migrating from one version of an application database to the next (rather than updating the underlying database management system itself).

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    This was my first thought, as that's the situation that most recently applied to my team. – user3067860 Oct 17 at 18:02

As a software engineer, allow me to explain why Software Engineers assume people know what "Oracle Migration" means, using a very brief simplified history.

In the early days of computers, Oracle was the the Enterprise (top of the line) Database. You were either using Oracle as your database, or you didn't have a database. (Also, computers were expensive, and programmers were cheap labor.)

Over time, computers got cheaper, programmers became more valuable, and competition for Oracle started to appear. Oracle was getting old, massive, and ludicrously expensive. So a sort of mass migration from Oracle to any other database started to happen, as competing databases could offer more business value for cheaper.

Because everyone was trying to migrate away from Oracle before it died completely, it become "common knowledge" that Oracle migration meant migrating away from Oracle. You were either required to use Oracle by contract, or you migrated to something better.

However, to everyone's surprise, the Oracle database survived! And they are still updating! And it isn't completely trash any more. It's still (arguably) ludicrously expensive, but it is at least viable for the foreseeable future (it's currently the #1 Relational Database by stock value, thanks to ludicrously expensive support contracts!). So now that there is no longer a mass exodus from Oracle databases, the "common knowledge" is no longer common, and it is now ambiguous. The old guard will still stand by that Oracle should be ditched in a heartbeat, but the new bloods are used to just working with whatever is handed to them.

Additional Note:

Also, context makes all the difference in the world. If you aren't using Oracle, it probably means migrating to; if you are upgrading servers, it means migrating versions, if you do use Oracle, it probably means migrating from.

If it's a blog title, it probably means "from Oracle" because if you are migrating databases, Oracle is still the most common legacy (used since COBOL software days) database in use.

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    And if you're anywhere but Stack Exchange, it has nothing whatsoever to do with computers, and refers to people who can see the future upping sticks. – 1006a Oct 17 at 19:01
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    The question is not why some people assume they know what "Oracle Migration" means. The question is whether it is ambiguous. And your answer shows clearly that it is - as do all the other answers, if not by their content then by their very existence. – michael.hor257k Oct 17 at 19:59
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    @michael.hor257k You misunderstand the answer. I'm explaining why there was a time this was considered unambiguous, and why it is ambiguous now; which is exactly what the OP is trying to understand. – Tezra Oct 17 at 20:05
  • Does "no. 1 by stock value" have any meaning? AFAIK the free-software databases have approximately zero stock value, but a heck of a lot of community value... – Toby Speight Oct 18 at 7:51
  • @TobySpeight it just means that of all the databases, it makes the most money. Which implies that it still enjoys a significant amount of use, and that it's unlikely they are going to shutdown the project anytime soon. – Tezra Oct 18 at 12:14

As a native English speaker, I read this as

The migration of an oracle.

I imagined a horse-drawn carriage with an elderly person dressed in flowing tattered clothes and an old knotted branch as a walking cane. Having been kicked out of their previous town for making too many false predictions, this oracle began a migration to find a more receptive audience.

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    I never knew you could use the term for a single person. Is that really true? – Gnudiff Oct 17 at 20:38
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    @Gnudiff Sure. From He migrates from New York to Florida each winter. – Ian MacDonald Oct 17 at 20:41
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    Though I suppose you could also imagine a troupe of oracles. – Ian MacDonald Oct 17 at 20:42

As a native English speaker (although I suspect that's not relevant), I would immediately recognize this as a shorthand expression for something that is well defined elsewhere. (Unless everyone involved happen to be ornithologists, in which case, it probably is a literal expression.) It could mean any of those things you think it means, but it certainly only refers to one specific thing.

It's certainly easier among those who know the meaning to talk it about it in shorthand rather than refer to it with a fuller descriptive label.

As with any coined terminology, anyone who doesn't know its meaning can ask someone who does. From that point, they will probably begin using the shorthand themselves, if they need to refer to it at all.

It only become ambiguous when someone starts using shorthand to mean something different than is commonly meant (and by "commonly", I don't mean as it is literally meant). In cases like this, it's important to make sure everyone involved is on board with what the intended meaning is among the group who are communicating. I see this all of the time, especially when someone wants to usurp a universally defined term.

For example, in my business we talk about the Spurious Free Dynamic Range. This has a very precise meaning that is only superficially like its literal meaning. Usually, we can talk among ourselves about it without having to resort to the precise definition. Sometimes, someone wants to talk about something that more closely resembles the literal meaning. How do they refer to it in shorthand without clashing with the universally understood meaning (within this discipline) and without being overly wordy every time it comes up? That can be a problem.

In your case, unless there are people dealing with more than one activity that might be referred to as the "Oracle migration", then its not ambiguous. Otherwise, expect that someone is going to be confused and misinformed at some point in time.

I've worked at different companies where this term has been used in very different ways. It depends on what's happening within the environment. IT management loves their quick PowerPoint slide titles, and being thoughtful or precise isn't a strong point in that world. In my experience, when IT management uses an especially broad or ambiguous term, like "Oracle Migration," there's a semi-conscious implication that this is a high priority for management, and therefore for you too. Or it's just sloppy writing -- YMMV.

A database migration is always a huge project, so it could be any of these:

  • In an environment where a legacy database of non-Oracle origin will be migrated to an Oracle instance, the to is implicit. Announcements might be accompanied by fanfare about how we've grown so much as a company that we're using Oracle now.

  • Where there's a project to move data from, let's say, a very old Oracle database where an in-place upgrade isn't possible, this means Oracle at both ends. This is probably more likely to be said when there are other database vendors in the house.

  • A migration from an Oracle database to a non-Oracle database (PostgreSQL, Mongo, you name it). Probably accompanied by fanfare about how much money will be saved in the licensing budget.

This is only ambiguous to people who don't know anything about Larry Ellison's company Oracle, don't speak English very well, or who want to argue for the sake of arguing.

It is entirely clear to native speakers who are also involved in computing. No professional in the industry would ever assume that "Oracle Migration" meant anything but

The Process of Migrating To (or from, it makes no difference) Using Oracle Instead of Another Database Provider

which may include, but would not be limited to, existing database engines, software products, support contracts, etc.

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    I'd have to disagree. My company migrates data from and to Oracle so "Oracle Migration" could refer to either. – Michael J. Oct 17 at 16:17
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    +1 This now explains the oddly high number of views. It's to do with computer stuff. I thought the OP had made the expression up. – Mari-Lou A Oct 17 at 16:18
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    @Mari-Lou: And the end result is, it's bikeshedding of the first order. – Robusto Oct 17 at 16:38
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    I too disagree. Having been in the biz for nearly 40 years, yes, I thought of Oracle the company first, but then wondered about birds (as I know there are many species I know nothing about.) But even in the context of the database, it could be about moving to Oracle, moving from Oracle, moving from one version of Oracle to another, or moving Oracle from one platform to another. It absolutely is ambiguous, even in the context of computing. – Roger Sinasohn Oct 17 at 16:45
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    I am a native English speaker, a software engineer familiar with Oracle, and not particularly argumentative, and lacking context I would find this phrase ambiguous. Your explanation is likely, but there are multiple other possible meanings that are not significantly less likely. – Eric Lippert Oct 17 at 17:57

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