Gartner sees declining need for tech skills

The need for employees with specific IT skills will decline 10 percent per year as companies move to commodity and virtualized systems, according to Gartner.

"Changes in technology are eliminating the need for skills that have historically been important," Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president of research, said at Gartner's ITxpo in San Francisco. He predicted a shift away from IT specialty skills toward employees with more business-analyst skills.

That forecast made sense to Janet Topic, CIO of Trimac. She said the Calgary, Ontario-based 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," said Topic.

Gartner analysts also predicted that by 2010, the IT industry will recognize that the Linux and Windows operating systems have "closed the gap with Unix" in terms of management, reliability and performance, said John Enck, a Gartner analyst. That will lead to declining interest in new Unix installations, although Enck said that the effect of Sun Microsystems's decision to open-source its Solaris operating system is difficult to estimate and that new innovations arising from that movie could change the outlook.

In regard to the hardware and operating system shift, Eoghan Bacon, manager of systems at BTM Capital in Boston, said the Gartner hardware forecast made 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," said Bacon.

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 said, referring to a previous 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 said.

Other forecasts include an estimate that the average IT budget will grow this year by 2.7 percent. Energy costs, currency fluctuations, the threats of bird flu and terrorism aren't holding IT spending back. "Despite these uncertainties, growth is still on the business agenda," said Sondergaard.

Enck said he expects Advanced Micro Devices's Opteron processor to continue to expand its market share, which he said is good for users because it will ensure competition in the x86 market. But Enck also said he believes Itanium's major user base will be those running HP-UX system.

Enck said deployments of Unix will decline as independent software vendors become platform-agnostic, focusing on J2EE or service-orientated architectures such as .Net.

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