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Branding Strategies in the SSD Market - by Zsolt Kerekes, editor

when the SSD brand sends the wrong signal

Sometimes the name of an SSD product - or the company who makes it - can lead to a confused situation - when one part of your brain stops you correctly interpreting the words that your eyes are reading. Here are 2 examples.
Case Study - RamSan - from Texas Memory Systems

this later became the FlashSystem brand from IBM
Stretching the RamSan brand to cover SSDs which weren't RAM SSDs (didn't include any flash) and then didn't connect via SANs and detouring past "we don't think MLC is good enough" to arrive at the destination - "RamSan Performance. eMLC value."

Here's an example of a banner ad for the RamSan-20 which was running here on in the 1st half of 2010.
banner ad for RamSan-20 - from 2010 - click to see product info
In July 2010 a reader said to me that although he was impressed by the specs of the RamSan-20 (a fast PCIe SSD from Texas Memory Systems) he "knew" he wouldn't be able to afford it - as it was a RAM SSD.

I said - this is a flash SSD. The "RamSan" product brand is the oldest SSD product brands in the industry - having been used for at least 10 years.

In 1992 my SBus directory listed a "SAM-2000" SSD (Shared Access Memory) from the same company - at a time before the terms "fibre-channel" or "SAN" had even been invented. So I'm guessing that RamSan was a short step from where the company had been when they started marketing FC connected SSDs.

Is RamSan confusing when applied to a flash SSD?

Yes. Because another potential source of confusion (which didn't apply in this reader's particular case) is that the product in question is not a "SAN" compatible product - by which is meant a storage device which connects via fibre-channel.

But the term "SAN" in the storage market has been devalued from its original meaning - and adapted by usages such as "IP SAN" (which is an iSCSI compatible ethernet connection) so that it is often meanignless and disregarded by many readers.

TMS isn't alone in using the term "SAN" to describe a DAS product like a PCIe SSD. In the early days of Fusion-io's marketing in 2008 - FIO regularly referred to its product as a solution or replacement for FC SANs. Technically -it wasn't. But this was customer code speak - aimed at editors and analysts who didn't know any better - that their products were aimed at the same kind of serious storage customers who traditionally had used SANs. You can't blame them - because the PCIe SSD market - which is huge now - didn't register in most user thinking back in those days. In fact it wasn't till September 2011 - that Fusion-io's SSDs made it into a legacy FC SAN product - in the blade based product line of Kaminario.

For TMS - stretching the RamSan brand to encompass SSDs which weren't RAM SSDs and didn't connect via SANs was a pragmatic marketing approach. Because when you've got a strong brand such as RamSan (in the context of SSD) - it helps sell products - and most people - who need these accelerators - will see past the confusing name to the real product which lies behind.

Could Texas Memory Systems have done a better job at removing confusion when it introduced its 1st flash SSD (the rackmount RamSan-500) in 2007?

A marketing expert I've spoken to said it would have been simple at that stage to differentiate the new products using different brands.

The advantage for TMS at the time (of using the old brand) was that the new product was clearly part of a 30 year reliable solid state storage heritage even though it used memory technology which many in the industry had once considered to be risky. But it could be counter productive to rebrand the product lines now.

December 2010 - in an interview with Jamon Bowen, Director of Sales Engineering for Texas Memory Systems, I learned that 70% of the company's SSD sales are actually flash SSDs rather than RAM SSDs.

September 2011 - Texas Memory Systems was the 2nd to last enterprise SSD maker to resist offering MLC flash in its SSD product line. So it's interesting to see that in a link to its high density MLC FC SAN rackmount SSD - the RamSan-810 - it uses the headline

"RamSan Performance. eMLC value."

Cutting across 2 long standing customer misconceptions at a single stroke. (One being concerns about naughty flash in the enterprise.)
RamSan changes name to FlashSystem
In January 2014 IBM which had acquired Texas Memory Systems in 2012 relaunched the RamSan product line as the FlashSystem range.

For more about this see IBM shows off what's it's been doing with the RamSan rackmount SSD product line it acquired from TMS.
Case Study - XcelaSAN - from Dataram
Here's an example of a banner ad for the XcelaSAN which was running here on in the 1st half of 2010.
click on this banner image to watch a video - which shows how Dataram's SSD ASAP works to save cost in SANs
Dataram is one of the oldest surviving brands in the memory market. The company was founded in 1967.

Dataram makes a rackmount SSD - called the XcelaSAN.

Now if you had to guess what kind of memory makes up the bulk of the storage capacity in this product (and you do have to guess - because the company's own web page doesn't tell you) - you'd guess DRAM right?

But you'd be wrong. It's actually SLC flash (the reliable kind of flash). I know this because I spoke to Dataram's CTO, Jason Caulkins when the product was launched in 2009.

And here's another confusing thing - which I have said often to Dataram's marketers. You don't see the word "SSD" (or the expanded form "solid state drive/disk") on their main product page. Instead - they call it a "storage optimization appliance".

To add to the rich pool of SSD jargon - I invented the word "ASAPs" for this class of SSD - a term which other publications and some vendors are starting to adopt.

...Later:- July 23, 2010 - Dataram's CTO, Jason Caulkins sent me this email to clarify Dataram's stance re the terminology used to describe their product.

He said - "Zsolt, I see on your recent post that you have made note of some issues with folks mis-using the term "SSD".

"I agree that the term SSD is sometimes being mis-used by both vendors and consumers, which is making things a bit (more) hazy.

"I would like to clarify how we use the term at Dataram. We refer to "Solid State Disk" only when describing a discreet storage device using some form of memory as the primary storage medium.

"In the case of the XcelaSAN, we never refer to it as an SSD. It is a solid state storage appliance, but it is not typically used for long-term data storage.

"It really is a SAN accelerator. It may use SDRAM, NAND, or any number of other types of storage internal to the system, but those are not exposed to the outside world."
...Later:- August 2010 - see also:- the SSD Bookmarks - suggested by Jason Caulkins, Chief Technologist Dataram.

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