There was last week an invitation-based roundtable about semantic data management in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Lots of smart people together. The meeting was hosted by Ontotext and chaired by Dieter Fensel. On the database side we had Ontotext, SYSTAP (Bigdata), CWI (MonetDB), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (YARS2/SWSE). LarKC was well represented, being our hosts, with STI, Ontotext, CYC, and VU Amsterdam. Notable absences were Oracle, Garlik, Franz, and Talis.

Now of semantic data management... What is the difference between a relational database and a semantic repository, a triple/quad store, a whatever-you-call-them?

I had last fall a meeting at CWI with Martin Kersten, Peter Boncz and Lefteris Sidirourgos from CWI, and Frank van Harmelen and Spiros Kotoulas of VU Amsterdam, to start a dialogue between semanticists and databasers. Here we were with many more people trying to discover what the case might be. What are the differences?

Michael Stonebraker and Martin Kersten have basically said that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and that there is no real difference between relational DB and RDF storage, except maybe for a little tuning in some data structures or parameters. Semantic repository implementors on the other hand say that when they tried putting triples inside an RDB it worked so poorly that they did everything from scratch. (It is a geekly penchant to do things from scratch, but then this is not always unjustified.)

OpenLink Software and Virtuoso are in agreement with both sides, contradictory as this might sound. We took our RDBMS and added data types and structures and cost model alterations to an existing platform. Oracle did the same. MonetDB considers doing this and time will tell the extent of their RDF-oriented alterations. Right now the estimate is that this will be small and not in the kernel.

I would say with confidence that without source code access to the RDB, RDF will not be particularly convenient or efficient to accommodate. With source access, we found that what serves RDB also serves RDF. For example, execution engine and data compression considerations are the same, with minimal tweaks for RDF's run time typing needs.

So now we are founding a platform for continuing this discussion. There will be workshops and calls for papers and the beginnings of a research community.

After the initial meeting at CWI, I tried to figure what the difference was between the databaser and semanticist minds. Really, the things are close but there is still a disconnect. Database is about big sets and semantics is about individuals, maybe. The databaser discovers that the operation on each member of the set is not always the same, and the semanticist discovers that the operation on each member of the set is often the same.

So the semanticist says that big joins take time. The databaser tells the semanticist not to repeat what's been obvious for 40 years and for which there is anything from partitioned hashes to merges to various vectored execution models. Not to mention columns.

Spiros of VU Amsterdam/LarKC says that map-reduce materializes inferential closure really fast. Lefteris of CWI says that while he is not a semantic person, he does not understand what the point of all this materializing is, nobody is asking the question, right? So why answer? I say that computing inferential closure is a semanticist tradition; this is just what they do. Atanas Kiryakov of Ontotext says that this is not just a tradition whose start and justification is in the forgotten mists of history, but actually a clear and present need; just look at all the joining you would need.

Michael Witbrock of CYC says that it is not about forward or backward inference on toy rule sets, but that both will be needed and on massively bigger rule sets at that. Further, there can be machine learning to direct the inference, doing the meta-reasoning merged with the reasoning itself.

I say that there is nothing wrong with materialization if it is guided by need, in the vein of memo-ization or cracking or recycling as is done in MonetDB. Do the work when it is needed, and do not do it again.

Brian Thompson of Systap/Bigdata asks whether it is not a contradiction in terms to both want pluggability and merging inference into the data, like LarKC would be doing. I say that this is difficult but not impossible and that when you run joins in a cluster database, as you decide based on the data where the next join step will be, so it will be with inference. Right there, between join steps, integrated with whatever data partitioning logic you have, for partitioning you will have, data being bigger and bigger. And if you have reuse of intermediates and demand driven indexing à la MonetDB, this too integrates and applies to inference results.

So then, LarKC and CYC, can you picture a pluggable inference interface at this level of granularity? So far, I have received some more detail as to the needs of inference and database integration, essentially validating our previous intuitions and plans.

Aside talking of inference, we have the more immediate issue of creating an industry out of the semantic data management offerings of today.

What do we need for this? We need close-to-parity with relational — doing your warehouse in RDF with the attendant agility thereof can't cost 10x more to deploy than the equivalent relational solution.

We also want to tell the key-value, anti-SQL people, who throw away transactions and queries, that there is a better way. And for this, we need to improve our gig just a little bit. Then you have the union of some level of ACID, at least consistent read, availability, complex query, large scale.

And to do this, we need a benchmark. It needs a differentiation of online queries and browsing and analytics, graph algorithms and such. We are getting there. We will soon propose a social web benchmark for RDF which has both online and analytical aspects, a data generator, a test driver, and so on, with a TPC-style set of rules. If there is agreement on this, we will all get a few times faster. At this point, RDF will be a lot more competitive with mainstream and we will cross another qualitative threshold.