IBM (NYSE: IBM) will soon sell Cisco Systems'(Nasdaq: CSCO) just-released data storage networking switches. The two announced the nonexclusive deal this morning, which brings Cisco into a new market and a likely realm for future growth.

Storage networking switches help companies effectively route information, giving them access to data stored in different areas or on different servers of their storage networks. Brocade Communications(Nasdaq: BRCD) and McData(Nasdaq: MCDT) are currently the largest firms selling these switches.

Characteristically, Cisco isn't afraid of a little preexisting competition. It has said it wants to be the largest or second-largest seller in this market within two to three years. And it's expected to be a heckuva market, worth $4.3 billion in 2006, up from $1.2 billion last year, according to research firm Gartner.

Cisco's storage network switches became available for testing last month, and are currently being tested by several companies (in addition to IBM). While IBM is the first to publicly announce its intention to sell switches, others will undoubtedly be added to the lineup over the next few months.

It appears that Cisco is getting into the storage market at a good time. Several companies in the data storage industry indicated yesterday that perhaps the tide is turning for corporate spending in that market.

EMC (NYSE: EMC) announced sales are up handily and will show a fourth-quarter profit. McData said it will report earnings of $0.06 to $0.08 a share for the fourth quarter, rather than the break-even quarter analysts expected. Storage Technology(NYSE: STK) also reported a stronger-than-expected Q4.

All of this bodes well for Cisco. IBM already accounts for about $1 billion of the company's sales, and the new switches will only improve that number. Plus, EMC and others will likely begin selling switches, giving Cisco a quick foothold in a growing and apparently strengthening market. Its size and reputation among corporate customers give it an advantage at a most opportune time. That's good news for Cisco, but not for the competition.