The cloud officially entered its second decade this March with the 10-year anniversary of the launch of Amazon Web Services. But even at this stage of the game, many enterprise executives still wonder if they are ready for the cloud. (To learn more about AWS, see Are You Missing Out on Amazon Web Services?)

The simple fact is, however, that whether the top brass knows it or not, virtually every enterprise has some data in the cloud. So the real question is not whether the enterprise is ready for the cloud, but whether the cloud is ready for the enterprise. Do the public service providers in particular offer the tools and functionality that the enterprise has come to rely on within their local data infrastructures?

The short answer is yes, but there is more to it than that. Because the cloud does not provide data resources in the same fashion as legacy data centers, it is on track to lay the foundation for an entirely new enterprise data ecosystem, one that leverages extreme scalability and flexibility to support the legion of applications that are becoming increasingly vital in the new digital economy.

What is 'Enterprise Class'?

Techopedia defines enterprise-class as the ability to provide robust and scalable resources across a large organization. There are no certifications or standards for this designation, which allows cloud providers and platform vendors alike to apply the label in virtually any way they choose. But in general, enterprise-class features open and compatible support for existing databases and tools, a fairly customizable architecture, rapid scalability and solid security. According to a recent report from Forrester, most public providers have shown steady improvements in these key areas over the past several years, and some are starting to exceed the service levels of the local enterprise data center.

From the outside, though, it would seem that Amazon already has the cloud market locked up tight. It hosts more data by far than anyone else, even Google and Microsoft. But the fact is that even after 10 years, the cloud industry is still in its infancy and the field for enterprise-class workloads is wide open. The real action, in fact, will come when organizations start to leverage advancements like container-based virtualization and software-defined networking to host entire data center environments in the cloud, most likely using hybrid architectures that allow for easy migration between local and distributed resources. (For more on competition in the cloud, see The Four Major Cloud Players: Pros and Cons.)

The primary incentive here is money (isn’t it always?). While leading providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are racing to the bottom of the cost scale for basic compute and storage resources, enterprise-class services can be delivered at premium rates. And the company that provides the smoothest transition between legacy infrastructure and their cloud will likely reap the highest rewards.

This is why Microsoft has emerged as the only viable rival to Amazon at this point, largely by virtue of the fact that it already owns most of the data management stack within existing data centers. But Amazon is not ceding the enterprise without a fight. The company recently started pushing SharePoint Enterprise over its AWS Marketplace portal in a bid to make it easier to migrate server-side SharePoint and Windows Server workloads to its cloud. The platform offers many of the enterprise-class features that Microsoft’s own SharePoint Foundation doesn’t provide, such as mobile and customized app development, social media integration and advanced content management, and Amazon has also teamed up with cloud management provider Data Resolution to ensure smooth integration between legacy and cloud environments.

Only in the Cloud

For the moment, most enterprises are merely looking to offload legacy environments onto the cloud, essentially recreating what they already have on a cheaper, less capital-intensive footprint. Leading cloud providers, however, are looking beyond this point to a time when they can provide entirely new services that simply cannot be matched by on-premises data facilities, even cloud-based ones. As storage analyst Robin Harris noted to ZDnet recently, the race is on to master the truly hyperscale applications that leverage thousands, even tens of thousands, of CPU cores for high-speed transaction processing, big data analytics and other burgeoning data initiatives. By incorporating advanced technologies like machine translation and neural networking, Google and Microsoft will have the capability to provide a truly unique enterprise data ecosystem designed not to replace the enterprise data center but to support the kind of data operations that can only exist in the cloud.

In this way, issues like “enterprise-class” services will fade over time because the cloud will be the only way to support “cloud-class” services, and these will increasingly come to dominate the critical workflows that separate the winners and losers in the emerging service- and app-driven economy.

In the end, then, it is apparent that the enterprise and the cloud are both ready for each other, and together they will chart a course into the 21st century data environment.