IBM and HP tied for second place behind EMC in a report released Thursday, by IDC tracking external disk storage sales in the first three months of 2007.

HP rang up US$575 million in revenue for a 13.4 percent market share to IBM's $545 million in revenue and 12.7 percent share. Because the market share numbers were less than one percentage point apart, IDC considers that a "statistical tie."

Still, both trailed EMC's $912 million in revenue for a 21.2 percent share. Unlike HP and IBM, EMC is primarily a storage vendor and doesn't sell servers, computers or printers.

"IBM and HP have been pretty close for some time and they continue to just battle it out," said Brad Nisbet, program manager for IDC Storage Systems research.

However HP's sales fell 1 percent in the first quarter, compared to the first quarter of 2006, while IBM's rose 4.8 percent, which Nisbet attributes to HP's dated product lines. HP stands to benefit from what Nisbet said is an upcoming refresh of its high-end XP storage models, developed through HP's collaboration with Hitachi Data Systems. But the Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) and Modular Smart Array (MSA) lines could also use some improvements.

"EVA was up 15 percent in this quarter and didn't do too bad, but I think over time they are going to need to refresh that product line," Nisbet said.

In an effort to improve its storage business, HP recently named former Hitachi Data Systems CEO David Roberson as senior vice president and general manager of its StorageWorks division, effective May 30.

The external disk storage market refers to storage technology that is not built into a server and is the lion's share of the disk storage market. However, in the total disk storage market, HP leads with $1.24 billion in revenue for a 20.1 percent share, followed by IBM's $1.12 billion, 18.3 percent share. EMC fell to third with a 14.8 percent share because it doesn't sell internal storage so its $912 million external storage revenue is its total storage hardware revenue.

The IDC numbers show a similar trend to that in a report released Tuesday by Gartner, although each counts storage revenue differently. Gartner gave IBM second place with a 13.2 percent share and HP third with 12.8 percent, That's closer than the IDC figures, but Gartner it doesn't consider it a statistical tie. EMC lead in that report too, with a 24.5 percent share.

Overall, the global first quarter external disk storage revenue grew by 4.8 percent over the year ago quarter to $3.8 billion, according to Gartner, and by 5.9 percent to $4.3 billion, according to IDC.