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Smackdown Time at SAN Soiree: Page 2 of 4

Clearly, the several hundred-strong crowd in the filled-to-capacity ballroom already understood that storage was something they wanted to find out more about, otherwise they wouldn't have subjected themselves to a buffet dinner consumed at tables filled elbow-to-elbow. "Without a doubt, this [storage] is the next big thing," says Reyes, who has already cashed in a bit (see Spring Stock Sales: Signs of Something?). "It's a $100 billion market in the next four years."

Now pointed in a more meaningful direction, the panel – which also included Dan Warmenhoven, CEO of Network Appliance, and Jim Schraith, Chairman and CEO of Quantum Corp.'s Snap Appliances division – spent the better part of the next hour chewing on meatier topics, including whether or not Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) would emerge as a significant competitor (most agreed it would). But IBM's Sanford says interoperability, or a lack thereof, could be the single biggest limiting factor to the storage industry's growth.

"The limiter could be us, if our products don't interoperate," she told the crowd. "Our customers are increasingly vocal about interoperability."

Several panelists heralded the recent interoperability agreement between the "big six" members of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) – Brocade, IBM, EMC, Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE: CPQ), Hitachi Data Systems, and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDT) – as a major step toward greater interoperability, something several panel members said was inevitable (see The Grand SAN Plan).

"You'll see the same kind of standards, like TCP/IP and Ethernet, emerge," says Network Appliance's Warmenhoven. "Storage is going to map the history of the communications industry."