Memory System Performance and the Innovator's Delimma

Jack Davidson, University of Virginia

Memory system performance continues to be a major performance issue for overall computer system performance. While current research continues to chip away at the towering memory wall, the gap between processor speed and effective memory speed continues to grow. In this talk, we describe Clayton Christensen's concept of the innovator's dilemma and how his principles apply to computer architecture research and memory systems performance research in particular. The talk briefly surveys some ongoing research thrusts in memory systems performance and the results. The basic conclusion is that innovation is not sufficient, but rather we need "disruptive technologies" to significantly address memory system performance issues. Based on this conclusion, we propose some memory systems research problems that we believe must be addressed in the short term to increase our understanding of the complex interactions of software and hardware. The talk concludes by proposing a few other longer range research directions that should be pursued to foster development of disruptive technologies for memory systems.