Cloud computing is set to become so pervasive that by 2012, one out of five businesses will own no IT assets at all, according to Gartner.

The shift toward cloud services hosted outside the enterprise's firewall will necessitate a major shift in the IT hardware markets, and shrink IT staff, Gartner said.

"The need for computing hardware, either in a data centre or on an employee's desk, will not go away," Gartner said. "However, if the ownership of hardware shifts to third parties, then there will be major shifts throughout every facet of the IT hardware industry. For example, enterprise IT budgets will either be shrunk or reallocated to more-strategic projects; enterprise IT staff will either be reduced or reskilled to meet new requirements, and/or hardware distribution will have to change radically to meet the requirements of the new IT hardware buying points."

If Gartner is correct, the shift will have serious implications for IT professionals, but presumably many new jobs would be created in order to build the next wave of cloud services.

But it's not just cloud computing that is driving a movement toward "decreased IT hardware assets," in Gartner's words. Virtualisation and employees running personal desktops and laptops on corporate networks are also reducing the need for company-owned hardware.

Gartner's prediction was included in a new report Gartner's Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users, 2010 and Beyond: A New Balance that highlights nine key predictions that will affect IT organisations and users this year and beyond.

The short report doesn't say exactly how a world in which 20 percent of IT organizations own no hardware will be able to deal with rapidly growing data storage needs. IDC has found that the amount of digital information created and replicated worldwide is growing at 60 percent each year, so presumably cloud-based storage services will help the IT world cope with this problem.

Here are a few more of Gartner's key predictions:

  • Facebook will become the hub for social network integration and web socialisation by 2012.
  • Most IT business cases by 2014 will include carbon remediation costs.
  • In 2012, more than half (60 percent) of a new PC's total greenhouse gas emissions will occur before the user first turns on the machine.
  • Internet marketing will be regulated by 2015, controlling more than $250 billion in Internet marketing spending worldwide.
  • More than 3 billion adults worldwide will be able to transact electronically via mobile or Internet technology by 2014.
  • Mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access device worldwide by 2013.