The quest of OpenLink Software is to bring flexibility, efficiency, and expressive power to people working with data. For the past several years, this has been focused on making graph data models viable for the enterprise. Flexibility in schema evolution is a central aspect of this, as is the ability to share identifiers across different information systems, i.e., giving things URIs instead of synthetic keys that are not interpretable outside of a particular application.

With Virtuoso 7, we dramatically improve the efficiency of all this. With databases in the billions of relations (also known as triples, or 3-tuples), we can fit about 3x as many relations in the same space (disk and RAM) as with Virtuoso 6. Single-threaded query speed is up to 3x better, plus there is intra-query parallelization even in single-server configurations. Graph data workloads are all about random lookups. With these, having data in RAM is all-important. With 3x space efficiency, you can run with 3x more data in the same space before starting to go to disk. In some benchmarks, this can make a 20x gain.

Also the Virtuoso scale-out support is fundamentally reworked, with much more parallelism and better deployment flexibility.

So, for graph data, Virtuoso 7 is a major step in the coming of age of the technology. Data keeps growing and time is getting scarcer, so we need more flexibility and more performance at the same time.

So, let’s talk about how we accomplish this. Column stores have been the trend in relational data warehousing for over a decade. With column stores comes vectored execution, i.e., running any operation on a large number of values at one time. Instead of running one operation on one value, then the next operation on the result, and so forth, you run the first operation on thousands or hundreds-of-thousands of values, then the next one on the results of this, and so on.

Column-wise storage brings space efficiency, since values in one column of a table tend to be alike -- whether repeating, sorted, within a specific range, or picked from a particular set of possible values. With graph data, where there are no columns as such, the situation is exactly the same -- just substitute the word predicate for column. Space efficiency brings speed -- first by keeping more of the data in memory; secondly by having less data travel between CPU and memory. Vectoring makes sure that data that are closely located get accessed in close temporal proximity, hence improving cache utilization. When there is no locality, there are a lot of operations pending at the same time, as things always get done on a set of values instead of on a single value. This is the crux of the science of columns and vectoring.

Of the prior work in column stores, Virtuoso may most resemble Vertica, well described in Daniel Abadi’s famous PhD thesis. Virtuoso itself is described in IEEE Data Engineering Bulletin, March 2012 (PDF). The first experiments in column store technology with Virtuoso were in 2009, published at the SemData workshop at VLDB 2010 in Singapore. We tried storing TPC H as graph data and in relational tables, each with both rows and columns, and found that we could get 6 bytes per quad space utilization with the RDF-ization of TPC H, as opposed to 27 bytes with the row-wise compressed RDF storage model. The row-wise compression itself is 3x more compact than a row-wise representation with no compression.

Memory is the key to speed, and space efficiency is the key to memory. Performance comes from two factors: locality and parallelism. Both are addressed by column store technology. This made me a convert.

At this time, we also started the EU FP7 project, LOD2, most specifically working with Peter Boncz of CWI, the king of the column store, famous for MonetDB and VectorWise. This cooperation goes on within LOD2 and has extended to LDBC, an FP7 for designing benchmarks for graph and RDF databases. Peter has given us a world of valuable insight and experience in all aspects of avant garde database, from adaptive techniques to query optimization and beyond. One thing that was recently published is the results for Virtuoso cluster at CWI, running analytics on 150 billion relations on CWI’s SciLens cluster.

The SQL relational table-oriented databases and property graph-oriented databases (Graph for short) are both rooted in relational database science. Graph management simply introduces extra challenges with regards to scalability. Hence, at OpenLink Software, having a good grounding in the best practices of relational columnar (or column-wise) database management technology is vital.

Virtuoso is more prominently known for high-performance RDF-based graph database technology, but the entirety of its SQL relational data management functionality (which is the foundation for graph store) is vectored, and even allows users to choose between row-wise and column-wise physical layouts, index by index.

It has been asked: is this a new NoSQL engine? Well, there isn’t really such a thing. There are of course database engines that do not have SQL support and it has become trendy to call them "NoSQL." So, in this space, Virtuoso is an engine that does support SQL, plus SPARQL, and is designed to do big joins and aggregation (i.e., analytics) and fast bulk load, as well as ACID transactions on small updates, all with column store space efficiency. It is not only for big scans, as people tend to think about column stores, since it can also be used in compact embedded form.

Virtuoso also delivers great parallelism and throughput in a scale-out setting, with no restrictions on transactions and no limits on joining. The base is in relational database science, but all the adaptations that RDF and graph workloads need are built-in, with core level support for run-time data-typing, URIs as native Reference types, user-defined custom data types, etc.

Now that the major milestone of releasing Virtuoso 7 (open source and commercial editions) has been reached, the next steps include enabling our current and future customers to attain increased agility from big (linked) open data exploits. Technically, it will also include continued participation in DBMS industry benchmarks, such as those from the TPC, and others under development via the Linked Data Benchmark Council (LDBC), plus other social-media-oriented challenges that arise in this exciting data access, integration, and management innovation continuum. Thus, continue to expect new optimization tricks to be introduced at frequent intervals through the open source development branch at GitHub, between major commercial releases.