The need for employees with specific IT skills will decline 10% per year as companies move to commodity and virtualised systems, according to Gartner.
"Changes in technology are eliminating the need for skills that have historically been important," says Peter Sondergaard, a Gartner senior vice president of research at the firm's recent ITxpo in San Francisco. He predicted a shift away from IT specialty skills towards employees with more business-analyst skills.
That forecast made sense to Janet Topic, CIO of Trimac. She says the Canadian transportation company is interested in more plug-and-play IT applications and services, such as software on demand. "The solutions that will make Trimac more competitive are less dependent on key IT skills," she says.
Gartner analysts also predict that by 2010, the IT industry will recognise that the Linux and Windows operating systems have "closed the gap with Unix" in terms of management, reliability and performance, says John Enck, another Gartner analyst. That will lead to declining interest in new Unix installations, although Enck says the effect of Sun Microsystems' decision to open-source its Solaris operating system is difficult to estimate and that new innovations arising from that move could change the outlook.
In regard to the hardware and operating system shift, Eoghan Bacon, manager of systems at BTM Capital, says the Gartner hardware forecast makes sense. Bacon's company has been using Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX operating system to support one of his company's applications, but the application vendor is moving to Linux. As a result, he'll be moving from an HP 9000 server to an x86-based blade system. "I can run it, obviously, a lot cheaper on Linux," he says.
Not everyone agreed with Gartner's assessments, especially with the idea that Windows will achieve the same level of reliability as Linux.
Thomas Cavanaugh, an IT analyst at a financial services firm that he declined to name, doesn't believe that in five years people will be convinced they should move from Unix systems to Windows. "They still remember NT, and I don't think even in five years they are going to forget that," he says, referring to the now-unsupported Windows operating system aimed at enterprise users.
Cavanaugh's company uses IBM's AIX and Solaris, proven technologies and operating systems that will be around for years. But "if there were new applications that were only coming out on Windows — not coming out on AIX and Solaris — that might drive the shift," he says.
Energy costs, currency fluctuations, the threats of bird flu and terrorism aren't holding IT spending back, Gartner says. "Despite these uncertainties, growth is still on the business agenda," says Sondergaard.
Enck says he expects AMD's Opteron processor to continue to expand its market share, which he says is good for users because it will ensure competition in the x86 market. However, Enck also says he believes Itanium's major user base will be those running HP-UX system.
Enck says deployments of Unix will decline as independent software vendors become platform-agnostic, focusing on J2EE or service-orientated architectures such as .Net.