After surviving a tough market last year, the world's top makers of storage systems hope new products and alliances will heat up industry rivalries enough to spark increased sales. However, analysts said these vendors would had to endure another rough stretch this year as global demand would remain sluggish. International Data Corp (IDC) has forecast the market for disk-storage systems hardware to decline 1.2 per cent this year after dropping 18.2 per cent, or US$5.7 billion, last year. According to Gartner, storage systems vendors will face particularly tough market conditions in the Asia-Pacific as its September survey of 850 organisations indicated 75 per cent of the regional companies did not expect to embark on any major storage acquisitions this year. Timothy Thornton, enterprise storage group director at Compaq Computer's Greater China division, said: 'It seems that there is some degree of naivete in these research findings. 'The organisations we've been speaking to around the world, particularly in Greater China, are nothing but keen on increasing their storage capabilities. The data being managed by companies and individuals are continually on the rise, so the demand will always be there for systems to store and manage the huge amount of information out there.' He said Compaq was especially bullish on the latest additions to its StorageWorks-brand product family now being launched in Asia. These included the Enterprise Virtual Array, a system that occupies a new high-end storage market on its own, and the entry-level Modular SAN (storage area network) Array 1000. Compaq has emerged recently as a formidable player in storage systems. Gartner's Dataquest unit reported that Compaq topped sales of SAN-attached storage systems, with a 49 per cent market share worldwide. IDC also credited Compaq last year as the first storage systems maker to ship more than 100 petabytes of disk storage in one year. One petabyte of information, or 1,000 terabytes, is the equivalent of 250 billion pages of text, 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets or 1.7 million CD-Roms of information. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), another leading storage systems maker, which has hardware reseller deals with SGI, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard (HP), shared Compaq's optimism over storage hardware sales. 'We still are cautiously optimistic about the economy, but we certainly see the demand for storage systems as increasing further this year,' said Greg Cornfield, HDS executive vice-president and general manager for Canada, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. He added that indications from the Asia-Pacific markets where HDS operated showed enterprises had maintained storage systems as a priority information-technology investment area, despite the economic downturn. IDC said the worldwide storage hardware market included Raid (redundant array of inexpensive disks) storage systems, non-Raid disk systems, JBOD (just a bunch of disks) systems, disk arrays, SANs and network-attached storage. Gartner has said a phenomenal increase in storage shipments in Asia over the past couple of years - a rate that it described as unsustainable - has led to a glut, resulting in low effective use rates. Meanwhile, IDC projected that while the United States storage systems market would recover in the latter half of this year, the worldwide market would still decline and rebound only next year when disk storage system sales would grow 5.2 per cent. Matthew Boon, principal analyst for hardware platforms at Gartner Asia-Pacific, said: 'Despite long-term indications that storage spending would overtake server spending, there appears to be more momentum in the server market today. 'This is clearly a positive message for the region's major server players, particularly as most respondents indicated that they would acquire storage from the traditional server providers.' That included top multinational computer hardware vendors in Asia such as IBM, HP, Compaq, Dell Computer and Sun - all of which sell their own or rebranded storage systems. IDC has noted that storage-only, server-independent storage vendors such as perennial worldwide market leader EMC, Network Appliance and HDS were promoting their ability to operate in most server environments, unconstrained by the existing server and application infrastructure.