Cloud computing is emerging as the next wave of innovation in business-computing systems, so much so that some predict a major upheaval in the world of information technology (IT).

According to Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based IT research and advisory firm, businesses will be migrating to this new form of artificial intelligence en masse. The firm predicts that one out of five businesses will have no IT assets by the year 2012.

Cloud computing can best be defined as “computing as a service” rather than an asset that companies typically own in the form of hardware and software. Instead, users access their computing hardware and software needs over the Internet. When they are done, they just turn off the interface and go home. Call it “computer outsourcing.” IT staff beware. The trend could launch a monumental shift in the way businesses approach their investments in computing products as well as the staff they hire to maintain them.

In the world of cloud computing, there are both public and private providers. According to Gartner, through 2012, IT organizations will spend more money developing their own private cloud computing systems than they will on offerings from public cloud providers.

Gartner cautioned businesses to be aware that some IT services are destined for the cloud computing style. Once established, a decision will have to be made as to whether it makes more business sense to wait for a mature cloud service to appear or to develop one of their own.

The firm said several factors, besides the emergence of cloud computing, are feeding the trend away from IT assets. These include the growth of virtualization and employees running personal desktops and notebook systems on corporate networks.