Cisco Systems has started a big Asian push for its new storage-networking gear, claiming online travel agency Hutchison-Priceline as one of its biggest users in Greater China. The networking giant faces stiff competition from Brocade Communications, a company looking to pad its lead in supplying storage switches worldwide. The Cisco announcement last week came almost eight months after the company entered the market for storage area network (SAN) switches through its acquisition of the California-based start-up Andiamo Systems. 'With our proven networking capabilities, the high-growth storage networking market offers huge opportunities for Cisco in this region,' Cisco Asia-Pacific optical and storage networking director Idris Vasi said. As the world's largest maker of routers and switches, Cisco has ambitions to repeat the success of its Internet protocol (IP) products in the SAN switching market. Research firm Gartner forecast global demand for Fibre Channel SAN switches, a market led by Brocade, to reach US$4.3 billion in 2006 from US$1.2 billion last year. Brocade Asia-Pacific marketing director Fan Look said Cisco would find Brocade a tough competitor in Asia because Greater China accounted for almost a fifth of its global revenues. 'We already count as customers virtually all of the major financial institutions and telecoms service providers in China,' he said. He stressed that Cisco had 'traditionally been quite weak in addressing the small and medium-sized enterprise market segment, an area that Brocade has made a high priority'. Citing recent survey findings from Gartner's Dataquest unit, Cisco Hong Kong general manager Errol Chan said more than 16 per cent of enterprises polled had plans to implement SANs in the next 12 months, compared with less than 8 per cent that managed deployment last year. A SAN is a special-purpose, high-speed network that interconnects different data storage devices. It is used to support information backup and restoration, archival and retrieval, and sharing of data between servers. Fibre Channel is a communications standard widely used in SANs to link an organisation's servers to shared storage units and related devices. SAN switches are mostly integrated with the huge enterprise storage systems of manufacturers such as EMC, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). The last three firms recently forged deals to resell Cisco's SAN switches as part of their storage systems. Mr Vasi said Cisco had released its MDS 9000-series SAN switches with a view to supporting Fibre Channel and other storage protocols. Cisco supports the SAN switch connection called Internet small computer system interface (iSCSI), an emerging standard that enables data transfers across long distances. Mr Vasi said iSCSI would aid the deployment of SANs because of the ubiquity of IP-based networks, many of which ran on Cisco equipment. Hutchison-Priceline chief technology officer Parakh Dave said Cisco's new MDS 9509 switch was selected for the Hong Kong-based Internet travel agency's new SAN because it offered intelligent network services such as virtual SANs, security, and advanced traffic management, sophisticated diagnostics and unified SAN management. 'Cisco equipment met all of our requirements and integrates well into our existing network infrastructure. Our technical staff are familiar with Cisco products and a minimum amount of training is required for them to master the new Cisco storage equipment,' Mr Dave said. Hutchison-Priceline's SAN supports one of the travel industry's largest databases of travel businesses. Cisco has started collaborating with firms including Adaptec, BMC Software, Computer Associates, HDS, IBM and Veritas Software. Mr Vasi said the goal of these collaborative efforts was to ensure solution-level inter-operability for the Cisco MDS 9000-series products with storage-related devices. 'By developing storage industry standards through industry collaboration, customers will benefit from better interoperability and more efficient management of SAN resources,' he said.