Most innovative enterprises are doing cloud computing, and most of those have ongoing prototypes and proofs of concepts. This means they have both money and people set aside to play with emerging cloud technology and find out firsthand what is possible.
You should, too.
Setting up these cloud playgrounds accomplishes several objectives:
First, you can see for real whether the technology works in your environment. As you know, and despite what salespeople say, applications and data have a tendency to have issues within certain technology configurations. For example, you can expect incompatibilities between the security and management systems you already have in place and those security and management systems in the cloud.
It's good to find those issues early in the process, so you can work around them. Indeed, testing technology for fit and function avoids costly redos toward the end of the process, which can kill a project. This is why I always recommend a prototype to prove that everything works and plays well together.
Second, show people the reality of the cloud to gain buy-in. A prototype provides the ability to get the rank and file excited about the possibilities that the cloud can bring. Nothing is a substitute for real-world examples, and although the cloud looks good on paper, your prototypes mean much more to people in the enterprise who are still trying to understand the value of cloud.
I typically demonstrate the ease of spinning up compute and storage engines, and the performance that is available on demand. It's one thing to understand this concept; it's quite another thing to see it live and in action.
Third, move a few real applications and see how it goes. No matter if it's a simple "lift and shift" (without modifications to the application or data) or major surgery, the move will provide you with valuable experience on what it takes to migrate existing applications, or to build new ones.
Make sure you gather metrics, such as productivity of developers, the impact on development and operations, and strategic advantages gained, such as agility. These are handy when making the business case for more cloud funding, or will perhaps indicate you should not invest in cloud at all.
If your enterprise doesn't have a cloud playground, get one. They pay for themselves quickly, and they are awfully fun to have around.