The data storage industry crossed a big milestone in the third quarter of 2012 (3Q12).

According to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Disk Storage Systems Tracker, 3Q12 marks the first time that external disk storage systems makers shipped over seven exabytes, or 7,104 petabytes, of capacity in a single quarter for a year-over-year growth rate of 24.4 percent.

It’s a feat made all the more impressive by an uncertain business climate, said research director Eric Sheppard.

“This milestone occurred at a time of unfavorable economic conditions in Europe and improved utilization rates contributable to storage optimization technologies, suggesting demand for storage capacity is outstripping market headwinds,” stated Sheppard in press remarks.

Last quarter, factory revenues hit $5.9 billion, representing a 3.3 percent improvement over the same period a year ago. In total, the disk storage systems market brought in $7.9 billion in revenues, a 3.7 percent jump from 3Q11.

IDC senior research analyst Liz Conner noted that brisk demand for enterprise storage systems helped the market reach new heights. “Helping to drive the worldwide market in the third quarter was the double-digit growth in multi-protocol storage architecture and strong demand for upper mid-range and high-end storage,” she said.

And in what will come as a shock to no one, EMC continues to lead the market.

The storage giant generated 30 percent of external disk storage revenues last quarter. NetApp (11.9 percent) and IBM (11.7 percent) are statically tied for second place, with a mere 0.2 percent difference between them, said IDC. Hitachi and HP round out the top five, each with 9.7 percent market share.

Networked attached storage (NAS) outpaced the storage area network (SAN) and unified storage (NAS+SAN) markets. The category notched a 5.7 percent gain in revenues year-over-year.

The unified storage market — open networked disk storage systems, as IDC terms them — grew by 4.7 percent. SAN revenues followed close behind with 4.4 percent growth. EMC led in all three categories, particularly in the NAS segment where the company claimed a 43.6 percent share of revenues.

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