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As if outsourcing, virtualisation, utility computing, automation, hosted applications, and a recession weren't enough to stress out the average IT professional, there's the emerging threat of cloud computing to take away even more IT jobs.

As time progresses, analyst firms foresee the cloud becoming more prevalent, absorbing functions traditionally done by IT. IDC predicts that worldwide IT spending on cloud services will grow almost threefold by 2012 to $42 billion. Gartner has even predicted that, for IT, cloud computing will become as influential as e-business has been.

So exactly how -- and when -- will cloud computing reshape IT organisations and IT jobs? And what should the typical IT staffer do to protect his or her career?

First, don't panic. Any large-scale shift to cloud computing is a decade or more away, says Gartner analyst Ben Pring. "For now I look at software as a service [Saas] and cloud computing as an extension of the company's network, not a replacement," says Kim Terry, president of Terrosa Technologies, which helps software vendors make their wares available through the cloud. "In most organisation, it's likely to be five years before anyone is ready to change out a company's financial systems [to the cloud]," he says.

Next page: The cloud will create a few jobs, at first