A recent report from the analysts at Gartner says that enterprise spending will outpace the economy in the coming years. But the big change is that enterprises are no longer investing in the in-house and self-managed hardware and software systems that have typified this market for years. Instead, they are investing in cloud computing solutions, where key IT infrastructure is hosted and managed offsite.

"Organizations are switching from company-owned hardware and software assets to per-use service-based models," Gartner vice president Jim Tully says. "The projected shift to cloud computing, for example, will result in dramatic growth in IT products in some areas and in significant reductions in other areas. In general, assets will be utilized with greater efficiency, and we are assuming that the overall effect on market growth will be neutral. We also recognize that there is considerable upside potential for higher growth."

In many ways, Gartner is just waking up to what much of the IT world has understood for years: Cloud computing is real, it's happening now, and it will transform IT.

One of the concerns with the move to a cloud computing infrastructure is that the IT industry will see a massive reduction in jobs overall. This isn't necessarily true. Instead, what's happening is that many IT-oriented jobs are moving away from non-IT-related enterprises and to hosting companies and others that will serve enterprises. With this shift will come a shift in spending away from software and software licenses and to services.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft is moving its own products to a cloud computing model. It will soon begin offering its Exchange Server email solution and other products as hosted services, providing businesses with migration and interoperability solutions so that they can mix and match their own self-hosted servers with Microsoft's remotely hosted servers. Microsoft calls this approach "Software Plus Services."