On Tuesday, Gartner analysts Carl Claunch and Dave Cearley gave a crowd of IT leaders at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2008 a list of the top 10 technologies that will provide important strategic advantages to IT over the next three years. They encouraged the leaders to keep these technologies in mind as they formulate budgets and long-term plans.

Claunch and Cearley delivered their list in the presentation “Top 10 Strategic Technology Areas for 2009” at the Orlando event. Here’s how they defined the “strategic technologies” that made the list:

“A strategic technology is one with the potential for significant impact on the enterprise in the next three years. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to IT or the business, the need for a major dollar investment, or the risk of being late to adopt. Companies should factor these technologies into their strategic planning process by asking key questions and making deliberate decisions about them during the next two years. Sometimes the decision will be to do nothing with a particular technology. In other cases it will be to continue investing in the technology at the current rate. In still other cases the decision may be to test/pilot or more aggressively adopt/deploy the technology.”

Here’s the list:

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these areas, and I’ll add my take on each one.

1. Virtualization

They say: Server virtualization is already in process. Today, the two biggest opportunities in virtualization are in storage and desktops. Storage virtualization offers simplified access by pooling systems and can save big money with storage deduplication. Desktop virtualization allows users to have a portable personality across multiple systems, delivering a thick client experience with a thin client delivery model.
I say: The biggest factor that could drive desktop virtualization will be the advent of cheep $100-$200 thin clients (nettops) based on Intel Atom processors. In terms of storage virtualization, dedeplication — if effective — could be a huge money saver because every enterprise has tons of duplicate versions of files clogging up their file servers.

2. Cloud Computing

They say: You need to be very careful about all of the hype, but you need to take it very seriously as well. They think 80% of Fortune 1000 companies will be using some form of cloud computing services by 2012. They encouraged IT leaders to consider the back-end infrastructure and policies of cloud providers and to carefully the development models.
I say: Claunch and Cearley briefing mentioned the one reason why a lot of IT leaders will eventually adopt cloud computing:  It can allow IT to move a significant chunk of money from capital expenditures to operating expenditures. That’s the story.

3. Servers: Beyond Blades

They say: Blade servers introduced a shared a computing fabric that allowed some recombination of components and some efficiencies. The fabric-based server of the future will treat memory, processors and I/O cards as components in a pool, combining and recombining them into particular arrangements to suit the needs of the server load.
I say: This sounds terrific in principle because it’s about greater utilization of resources. But, how will this relate to virtualization, where the software layer is being abstracted in much the same way? Can the two work together to provide even more dynamic server resources? I also wonder about licensing, especially since this involves CPUs, which a lot of licensing is being tied to.

4. Web-Oriented Architectures

They say: Expect Internet, Web and cloud-based concepts (such as SOA) to increasingly drive mainstream architectures and development models.
I say: We’ve been hearing this for almost a decade now. I hope that the model is finally changing — it’s overdue — but as my ZDNet colleague Larry Dignan likes to say, “Hope is not a strategy.”

5. Enterprise Mashups

They say: Mashups mix content from multiple sources by using feeds from public application programming interfaces (APIs). Enterprises are now investigating taking mashups from cool Web hobby to enterprise-class systems to augment their models for delivering and managing applications.
I say: The best part about mashups is that they eliminate duplication of effort by allowing developers to componetize their code and then re-use it themselves and offer others the ability to use it as well. There needs to be better tools for doing this and then developers need to get in the habit of thinking about what they can turn into mashable components during the development process.

6. Specialized Systems

They say: Specialized server appliances can save IT time because they are largely preconfigured, but they also are not as flexible and can’t be reused as easily. A new category called heterogenous systems is emerging that offers mix-and-match hardware. Heterogeneous systems are prebuilt and supported by vendors, rather than custom-built by IT departments.
I say: IT should allow experts to preconfigure systems as much as possible and whenever it makes sense. If heterogenous systems can further commoditize servers then it’s a good thing because it will drive down costs and increase selection. Even better are virtualized appliances, which provide nearly all the benefits of appliances without the hardware drawbacks.

7. Social Software and Social Networking

They say: Your organization is an entity in the broad Social Web. Get to know Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn and other social sites and applications. Listen to the language of social media, before starting to speak.
I say: Beyond just looking to send out marketing messages via social networks, companies need to look at the ways social networking can allow them to better listen to customers and to empower employees to become better connected in their industry and specialty. But beware, social networking can become a time-sink and a productivity killer when not used in a disciplined way.

8. Unified Communications

They say: Enterprises are realizing that they have multiple products and vendors performing the same communications functions, and that this redundancy creates additional expense, makes it more difficult for users to learn, and increases the complexity of integration. In the next three years the number of communications
I say: What is the future of the good old business desk phone? Some companies such as Cisco see the desk phone becoming a video and data device. Others see the desk phone going away and mobile phones (with both a business number and a personal number) becoming the sole voice device for most business users.

9. Business Intelligence

They say: Business intelligence (BI) is one of the most powerful things you can deliver to business decision makers. Even though  we’ve all been doing it for years, we’re not doing it very well because too much of the data is stuck in silos. Companies need to get serious and systematic about implementing BI and performance management solutions because they fuel smarter decisions and better results.
I say: Companies now have lots of ways to collect data. The problem is that there aren’t as many good ways to dig into that data and quickly and easily turn it into actionable reports, graphs, and dashboards. That’s what business intelligence should be about — making the data easily accessible to the employees who need that data to make better decisions.

10. Green IT

They say: Consider potential regulations and have alternative plans for data center and capacity growth. Many are looking at energy efficiency or ‘green’ products simply for the practical advantages in energy savings. Some companies are emphasizing green activities as part of their social responsibility. A socially conscious CEO may have funds to support some IT changes that result in a greener company.
I say: Green IT is here to stay, even in a difficult economic environment. Energy will be one of the pre-eminent public concerns of the next decade and energy conservation will be an important part of the discussion. IT departments need to act now to start measuring the energy consumption of IT infrastructure and looking for strategic opportunities to reduce it, before they are forced to act due to government intervention.

Run, Grow, Transform

Cearley encouraged the attendees to ask, “How will these technologies effect the way that you run the business, grow the business, and transform the business?” With that in mind, the two analysts closed with a sample action plan based on those three principles (see below).