In his keynote address at Cisco's annual analysts' conference this week, CEO John Chambers made great play of the company's moves into storage, describing it as an important market. He said though that revenues were below expectations but that it was bound to be tough entering an established market. Chambers said storage was one of six areas in which he expected Cisco to do well over the next 12 months, aiming to attain $1 billion in revenues within five to seven years of market entry.

Naturally, the view from outside the company isn't as clear-cut. Cisco entered the storage business in earnest just over a year ago. In that time, it has moved quickly to conclude deals with storage OEMs such as EMC, IBM, HDS and HP. Although Cisco has as yet made little impact in terms of ports shipped, unlike its competitors users are not showing overt signs of hostility.

Few commented negatively on Cisco's products themselves. The most negative comment came from Chris Evans, storage consultant at Brookend who said, "We currently favour McData with Brocade for certain niche usages and we see nothing compelling in Cisco to warrant the jump to a new vendor. To be honest, it's bad enough managing a multi-vendor environment with what is basically the same McData hardware."

One anonymous commentator added that his internal product management team "don't seem to have much time for Cisco, and blew holes in their data replication across fibre offering."

This was in line with comments from Hamish Macarthur, principal at analysis company Macarthur Stroud International, who said that, although most vendors' products were interoperable at a basic level, the implementation of VSANs and tunnelling was such that each vendor had different ways of getting to the same end point. On a wider level, Peter Hull, the chairman of the SNIA Europe's UK regional end-user council, said he believed there wasn't a huge amount of brand awareness among end users since most of their purchases were made through the hardware OEMs. All of them sell SAN equipment from market leader Brocade, number two McData and now from Cisco too.

Hull added though that Cisco does have "a high profile with end-users from its networking products. We've seen both Brocade and McData working hard to enhance their profiles in response over the last year or so. McData in particular has fought back hard and pretty effectively. Broadly speaking I think that Cisco will succeed in getting a chunk of the market and at the moment the company most likely to suffer from this is Brocade."

Macarthur said he had spoken to dozens of end users. "Cisco's presence is seen very favourably by users. They have high expectations, and are looking to see how best to harness Cisco into their storage networks. Cisco is a major partner for many users with respect to their existing networks, and they want to harness that relationship and get the most out of their networks."

In other words, explained Macarthur, since many major users have Cisco Catalyst switches in their networks, for them it made sense also to manage the hardware in the SAN using IOS, the company's hardware management platform. This, for him, was Cisco's trump card. "There's no question that Cisco will succeed. It's seen as a major strategic partner for enterprise end users and they recognise that. It's a question of time when units start to ship. After Cisco has been shipping for 12 months, you'll see a different market."

Macarthur saw this as a positive development. "Every market requires two or three strong players to make sure that people understand that there's plenty of strong support."

In terms of how Cisco was likely to get to its favoured goal, he said that "larger SANs are consolidating and that's where Cisco is putting the pressure on." He predicted that Cisco would leave the bottom end of the market to Brocade and others.