A face-off between Brocade Communications and Cisco Systems in the storage switch sector has put some sizzle in an otherwise lukewarm market for storage-networking gear in Asia. In recent months, these companies and their partners have cranked up efforts to persuade enterprises in the region to deploy storage area networks (SANs). While the initiatives by Brocade and Cisco have focused on how SANs can cut the cost of managing growing volumes of corporate data, each has sought to convince the market that its SAN switching technology is better for the long term. Before this rivalry emerged, analysts saw lacklustre demand for SANs in the region. Research firm Gartner said in a recent report that either the vendors had not succeeded in delivering the message about the efficiency that SAN could bring and the return on storage investment that could be realised, or organisations in the region saw SANs as too expensive and could not justify the expenditure. A SAN is a special-purpose, high-speed network that connects different data storage devices. It is used to support backup and restoration, archival and retrieval, and sharing of data between computer servers and various enterprise storage systems. Brocade, along with long-time competitor McData, dominates the supply of Fibre Channel SAN switches worldwide. Fibre Channel technology is a communications standard widely used in SANs to link an organisation's servers to shared storage units and related devices. SAN switches are essential components integrated with enterprise storage systems from manufacturers such as EMC, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). Gartner forecast that global demand for Fibre Channel SAN switches would reach US$4.3 billion in 2006 from US$1.2 billion last year. 'With the government's commitment to developing its strategic infrastructure, China will become one of the fastest-growing markets for SANs in the region and make up 10 per cent of the Asian market for Brocade over the short term,' Brocade chairman and chief executive Greg Reyes told the South China Morning Post in 2001. 'The Asia-Pacific market accounts for about 15 per cent of Brocade's sales worldwide. With the expected growth in China, we see the region making up 20 per cent to 25 per cent of total business within a few years.' Brocade's push into the mainland has so far yielded significant SAN switch contracts from some high-profile customers. These included the Bank of China and Sony (China), the mainland subsidiary of the Japanese consumer electronics giant. Cisco, however, this year started its big SAN switch campaign in the Asia-Pacific to challenge Brocade's dominance. As the world's largest maker of Internet routers, Cisco has ambitions to repeat the success of its Internet protocol products in the SAN switch sector. Cisco has released its MDS 9000 family of SAN switches with a view to supporting Fibre Channel and other storage protocols, including the emerging standard called iSCSI, for Internet small computer system interface. The networking giant has also forged ties with EMC, IBM, HP and HDS to put its SAN switch on their storage devices. To heat up the rivalry with Brocade, Cisco has teamed up with regional systems integrator Datacraft on SAN deployments for small to medium-sized enterprises.