The Asian market for storage service providers (SSPs) is sluggish despite growth in demand for storage networking facilities. Andrew Meyer, Asia-Pacific director for storage business at Tivoli Systems, said the SSP market was not as busy as last year, when the sector emerged as a growth area for Tivoli's storage management software. 'We are still in discussions with a number of service providers in the region and remain optimistic about their business model. On a worldwide basis, they are large users of Tivoli software management solutions,' Mr Meyer said. An SSP provides computer storage space and related management to organisations. SSPs also typically offer periodic back-up and archiving, and the ability to consolidate data from multiple company locations so all locations can share the data effectively. Customers may be billed a monthly rate and for each managed terabyte of storage. Last year, the SSP business was given a kick-start by computer data storage systems vendors IBM and Hitachi Data Systems, which started their own SSP operations as part of their service portfolios. Tivoli, based in Austin, Texas, is a subsidiary of IBM and supplies a comprehensive range of systems management software for enterprises and service providers. When the dotcom bubble burst last year, investment in the SSP market was cut back. A poor global economy now has contributed to lower interest from network operators to push SSP plans. According to Gartner's Dataquest, the economic downturn since last year continued to extend sales cycles for storage management software. It said the outlook from this year to 2005 remained strong as data storage growth, driven by the use of Web-based applications, multimedia data and data warehouse-business intelligence implementations, demanded better storage administration. Dataquest projected the worldwide storage management software market would grow from US$5.3 billion last year to US$16.7 billion in 2005. Mr Meyer said Tivoli was successful in supporting SSP operations in key regional markets such as Singapore and Australia, but gave no sales estimates. Joseph Chan, customer support account manager for Greater China, said there were discussions with telecommunications network operators in Hong Kong and on the mainland to support potential SSP plans. 'We have been mostly involved in providing a range of Tivoli products for their existing operations, which includes information storage management,' Mr Chan said. Sage Research said the real benefits of using an SSP was in the quicker deployment of an organisation's information and applications, scalability, powerful back-up and recovery systems, and letting someone else worry over the security and management of certain applications and data of a company. It was not in cost-savings. Mr Meyer said advances in storage-networking technologies and emerging demand from enterprises for them gave SSPs a chance to shine again. International Data Corp (IDC) included the SSP operation under 'xSP' businesses, which it forecast to flourish in the next few years. IDC said xSPs represented a broad range of service providers, offering all types of service, including Internet access, applications functionality and support for business processes. Services were delivered over a network, externally managed, based on a one-to-many business model and priced on a service-fee basis. Despite a recent spate of bad press, IDC said the xSP business model was here to stay and worldwide revenues would more than quadruple from US$106 billion last year to more than US$460 billion in 2005. Tivoli was betting its Gigabit Ethernet-enabled storage management software would be a hit in this market segment. That technology enables information-technology managers to share, back up, restore and manage storage data worldwide, eliminating the distance and interoperability boundaries presented by fibre channel networking.