Like offensive linemen, memory performs an essential task but (like offensive linemen) it often only attracts attention when it fails.
While my husband watched the replay of a football game the other day (in our household’s hierarchy of needs, ESPN falls just below food and shelter), it occurred to me that you could draw an analogy between computing systems and American football. You have the quarterback, who is analogous to the processor. The running backs and receivers are the coprocessors. Depending on the quarterback, the offense may be closer to an FPGA than an ASIC. The coach and offensive/defensive coordinators make up the firmware, ownership represents the power supply, and the NFL provides the operating system.
My first thought was that the defensive line was analogous to memory, but that's not entirely apt. After all, people pay attention to the defensive line, especially if it's their team on defense. The defensive line can sack the opposing quarterback. The defensive line can prevent the other team from scoring in a critical play, say if they're trying to go for it on fourth and goal. The defensive line can keep points off the board.
The offensive line, though, doesn't get nearly as much respect as it should. When a team’s on offense, everybody's watching the quarterback. They're watching the receiver to see if he catches the pass, they're watching the running back to see if he breaks through. If an offensive line does its job well, the attention might even go to the opposing defense (in my house, that’s usually accompanied by someone shouting at the television, "What the [insert your favorite colorful term here] is he doing open?") Far less frequently do fans give credit to the offensive line for ensuring that the quarterback has time to make the throw, that the running backs can get yardage, that the receivers run their routes. The reality is, no matter how good the quarterback and his adjuncts are, if the offensive line weren't there, no points would be scored.
Memory is the same way. The microprocessor might handle the computation, but without memory to store the firmware and handle the data, no real work would get done. Everybody knows the system needs memory to perform, and we’re happy to play the more-is-better numbers game, but design discussions don't focus nearly as much as they should on the work that goes on behind the scenes. Calling memory a commodity ignores the effort that goes into providing speed and reliability, the design work that goes into advancing the state-of-the-art.
Like the offensive line, memory does get attention in one instance—when it fails. If the quarterback gets sacked, people point to the offensive line. If defenders get through to stop the running back, people point to the offensive line. The offensive line is not supposed to fail, it's supposed to support quarterback so he can do his job. Likewise, memory is not supposed to fail, even though assuming anything won't fail is ridiculous.
Of course every once in a while, virtue gets rewarded. My husband is a Washington Redskins fan. Those of you who follow the football may have heard of the Hogs, the Redskins’ offensive line for the Super Bowl teams of the 80s. Back in the day, the Hogs were celebrated, giving rise to the subculture of the Hogettes, recognizable to anybody who's ever watched a Redskins home game.
So to further extend the analogy, the Memory Designline is here to celebrate memory.
Although, I refuse to wear a plastic pig nose.