I have in the previous posts generally argued for and demonstrated the usefulness of benchmarks.

Here I will talk about how this could be organized in a way that is tractable, and takes vendor and end user interests into account. These are my views on the subject and do not represent a LOD2 members consensus, but have been discussed in the consortium.

My colleague Ivan Mikhailov once proposed that the only way to get benchmarks run right is to package them as a single script that does everything, like instant noodles -- just add water! But even instant noodles can be abused: Cook too long, add too much water, maybe forget to light the stove, and complain that the result is unsatisfyingly hard and brittle, lacking the suppleness one has grown to expect from this delicacy. No, the answer lies at the other end of the culinary spectrum, in gourmet cooking. Let the best cooks show what they can do, and let them work at it; let those who in fact have capacity and motivation for creating le chef d'oeuvre culinaire ("the culinary masterpiece") create it. Even so, there are many value points along the dimensions of preparation time, cost, and esthetic layout, not to forget taste and nutritional values. Indeed, an intimate knowledge de la vie secrete du canard ("the secret life of duck") is required in order to liberate the aroma that it might take flight and soar. In the previous, I have shed some light on how we prepare le canard, and if le canard be such then la dinde (turkey) might in some ways be analogous; who is to say?

In other words, as a vendor, we want to have complete control over the benchmarking process, and have it take place in our environment at a time of our choice. In exchange for this, we are ready to document and observe possibly complicated rules, document how the runs are made, and let others monitor and repeat them on the equipment on which the results are obtained. This is the TPC (Transaction Processing Performance Council) model.

Another culture of doing benchmarks is the periodic challenge model used in TREC, the Billion Triples Challenge, the Semantic Search Challenge and others. In this model, vendors prepare the benchmark submission and agree to joint publication.

A third party performing benchmarks by itself is uncommon in databases. Licenses even often explicitly prohibit this, for understandable reasons.

The LOD2 project has an outreach activity called Publink where we offer to help owners of data to publish it as Linked Data. Similarly, since FP 7s are supposed to offer a visible service to their communities, I proposed that LOD2 offer to serve a role in disseminating and auditing RDF store benchmarks.

One representative of an RDF store vendor I talked to, in relation to setting up a benchmark configuration of their product, told me that we could do this and that they would give some advice but that such an exercise was by its nature fundamentally flawed and could not possibly produce worthwhile results. The reason for this was that OpenLink engineers could not possibly learn enough about the other products nor unlearn enough of their own to make this a meaningful comparison.

Isn't this the very truth? Let the chefs mix their own spices.

This does not mean that there would not be comparability of results. If the benchmarks and processes are well defined, documented, and checked by a third party, these can be considered legitimate and not just one-off best-case results without further import.

In order to stretch the envelope, which is very much a LOD2 goal, this benchmarking should be done on a variety of equipment -- whatever works best at the scale in question. Increasing the scale remains a stated objective. LOD2 even promised to run things with a trillion triples in another 3 years.

Imagine that the unimpeachably impartial Berliners made house calls. Would this debase Justice to be a servant of mere show-off? Or would this on the contrary combine strict Justice with edifying Charity? Who indeed is in greater need of the light of objective evaluation than the vendor whose very nature makes a being of bias and prejudice?

Even better, CWI, with its stellar database pedigree, agreed in principle to audit RDF benchmarks in LOD2.

In this way one could get a stamp of approval for one's results regardless of when they were produced, and be free of the arbitrary schedule of third party benchmarking runs. On the relational side this is a process of some cost and complexity, but since the RDF side is still young and more on mutually friendly terms, the process can be somewhat lighter here. I did promise to draft some extra descriptions of process and result disclosure so that we could see how this goes.

We could even do this unilaterally -- just publish Virtuoso results according to a predefined reporting and verification format. If others wished to publish by the same rules, LOD2 could use some of the benchmarking funds for auditing the proceedings. This could all take place over the net, so we are not talking about any huge cost or prohibitive amount of trouble. It would be in the FP7 spirit that LOD2 provide this service for free, naturally within reason.

Then there is the matter of the BSBM Business Intelligence (BI) mix. At present, it seems everybody has chosen to defer the matter to another round of BSBM runs in the summer. This seems to fit the pattern of a public challenge with a few months given for contenders to prepare their submissions. Here we certainly should look at bigger scales and more diverse hardware than in the Berlin runs published this time around. The BI workload is in fact fairly cluster friendly, with big joins and aggregations that parallelize well. There it would definitely make sense to reserve an actual cluster, and have all contenders set up their gear on it. If all have access to the run environment and to monitoring tools, we can be reasonably sure that things will be done in a transparent manner.

(I will talk about the BI mix in more detail in part 13 and part 14 of this series.)

Once the BI mix has settled and there are a few interoperable implementations, likely in the summer, we could pass from the challenge model to a situation where vendors may publish results as they become available, with LOD2 offering its services for audit.

Of course, this could be done even before then, but the content of the mix might not be settled. We likely need to check it on a few implementations first.

For equipment, people can use their own, or LOD2 partners might on a case-by-case basis make some equipment available for running on the same hardware on which say the Virtuoso results were obtained. For example, FU Berlin could give people a login to get their recently published results fixed. Now this might or might not happen, so I will not hold my breath waiting for this but instead close with a proposal.

As a unilateral diplomatic overture I put forth the following: If other vendors are interested in 1:1 comparison of their results with our publications, we can offer them a login to the same equipment. They can set up and tune their systems, and perform the runs. We will just watch. As an extra quid pro quo, they can try Virtuoso as configured for the results we have published, with the same data. Like this, both parties get to see the others' technology with proper tuning and installation. What, if anything, is reported about this activity is up to the owner of the technology being tested. We will publish a set of benchmark rules that can serve as a guideline for mutually comparable reporting, but we cannot force anybody to use these. This all will function as a catalyst for technological advance, all to the ultimate benefit of the end user. If you wish to take advantage of this offer, you may contact Hugh Williams at OpenLink Software, and we will see how this can be arranged in practice.

The next post will talk about the actual content of benchmarks. The milestone after this will be when we publish the measurement and reporting protocols.

Benchmarks, Redux Series