Over the last few weeks I've realized something. This might not be news to you, but it defiantly was to me... my job (and the jobs of many other IT professionals) is going to disappear in the next 10 to 15 years and maybe sooner. Sure, they'll be some Systems Administrators and definitely some network engineers, but no where near as many as there are now. Here's my thinking...
The IT industry is currently about applications both on the PC and the server side. These applications and the machines they run on have to be set up and maintained, whether its a SQL server, a DNS server, a file server, a collaboration server, etc. Its the job of people like me to plan for, deploy, and maintain the computers that provide and can access these services. Typically, each company has their own private set of these servers and so there are a copious number of jobs in the industry, but there won't be for long.
The with the help of Web 2.0, the technology industry is moving away from applications hosted in house to applications provided as a service. We see this in the slow transition from applications like Microsoft Office to Google Apps or Zoho Office, from Microsoft SharePoint to Basecamp, from Oracle CRM Applications to SalesForce. As more Web 2.0 companies are created, more applications will become services and so require fewer in house resources, but its going to take a little while.
Right now, there are some limitations to prevent this from happening quickly. First, there's the problem of bandwidth, but this is steadily being solved with the deployment of low cost, high-speed connections. Next, there's the problem of web services not being able to function when off-line, but this was somewhat fixed with the creation of Google Gears and other utilities like it. Third, there's the heavy lifting that is required of some applications such as those required in photo, sound, and movie editing. The beginnings of a fix for this can be seen in platforms like Adobe Air and Microsoft Silverlight, which still make heavy use of web services but shift the CPU intensive functions to the clients PC.
There are also new initiatives like Microsoft Mesh, that will help facilitate the transition by making existing applications and storage available on any platform/device from anywhere but this is just a transitive step towards the inevitable.
Further proof...As I'm sure many of you are aware, more and more companies are turning to "Managed IT Services" for everything from Spam protection (think Postini) to Hosted Exchange. Companies typically love these because they are able to have enterprise class features without the enterprise price tag. Don't let that misnomer fool you. These "services" are the just the beginning of what's coming and the fact that small, mid-sized, and even large companies are eating them up is just further example of the inevitable.
In the end there will just be the browser or what we would consider a super browser, robust enough to do the heavy lifting of the most intensive applications. Companies will shed their servers in favor of the more cost effective service model for all their computing needs... a CRM service for CRM, an accounting service for accounting, a collaboration service for working together, an online office service for productivity... the list goes on. These disparate services (initially until they are bought up by big companies) will be linked together through a company portal (which will also be a service) that has links to the various services needed by the employees. File storage, when not handled by the specific service being used, will be its own separate service that the others link into. No more VPN connections to the office; a browser from anywhere in the world is all that's necessary. Troubleshooting problems will become something repetitive like, "Can you get to the internet?... Yeah... Okay, then you should be good.", requiring little to no expertise to fix.
There will still be IT jobs. The main jobs will be working as a desktop support technician who's main responsibility is to make sure the company computers can get to the internet (and this may not even be necessary), working at a web service company maintaining the companies infrastructure (the only thing that would resemble the high-end IT job of today) or maintaining the network between the two. That's it. No need for the many Senior Systems Administrator positions that exist today.
BUT THERE IS HOPE! You (and I) are currently in the industry going through the very beginnings of this change and so we have both the insight into the current applications that will become services and the technical know-how to run these new service companies. We must use this knowledge to build the service companies that will be the corporate IT infrastructures of the future. If we don't... someone else surely will.