The storage market is growing but not as much as anticipated, Gartner has said - although it is in far better shape than last year.

Companies are expected to spend $4.8 billion (£2.9 billion) this year on storage networks, compared to $4.7 billion last year, but it is still lower than the $5.0 billion spent in 2001.

And continuing the geo-political insights of analysts in recent years, Carolyn DiCenzo, vice president for Gartner's storage group, has put the poor performance down to "uncertainties as the war in Iraq winds down" and "the SARS disease in Asia".

Despite this modest overall growth, however one segment continues to go from strength to strength: enterprise storage resource management (managing existing storage). This will grow 11.3 per cent in 2003 and help drive growth in the other areas, Gartner predicts. The reason for this is the increasingly complex mish-mash of storage systems that companies have introduced and run.

The good news is that storage will continue to grow as employees manage to produce more gigabytes of files every day. New software that encourages memory-hungry graphics and the like will grow as faster network and Net connections make their use and transmission more practical. "The growing use of rich media and resulting storage management implications will open a market for new file systems and replication technologies that provide new ways to manage large files," said DiCenzo.

The report points to room for growth for software companies that manage to come up with a system that simplifies backing-up data - it suggests a visual interface.

Without an overhaul of their current systems, however, many companies may find themselves snowed under. "Companies must organise the storage management function to provide a focus on storage that spans individual applications and systems, and takes into account the specific requirements of each application," says Gartner.

Gartner could not confirm whether it was planning a report on what percentage of the extra data stored by companies each year is actually business-critical however.