Sunday, September 4, 2011

VLDB 2011

I was at VLDB last week. I got to see a bunch of interesting talks and had several fun hallway conversations

Here are some notes from the conference:

Challenges and Vision Track

The Challenges and Vision track was probably the most fun. Two talks stood out to me (although I didn't attend all the talks in this session). Magdalena Balazinska's talk on Data Markets and Peter Haas' "Data is Dead -- Without What If Models". Magda's argument was that public clouds are turning out to be a very convenient place to buy and sell data and research is required to understand how data and data services can be priced and sold. She argued that the current tiered subscription models don't really cut it (I'm not sure I fully buy it, but it is an interesting proposition). She argued that this brings about many challenges at the intersection of databases and economics.

Peter Haas (who also works at IBM Almaden) argued that the database community has traditionally been good at descriptive statistics and shallow models, but will need to get good at supporting deep, predictive models to really unlock the value of all the data we're gathering. He gave examples from the healthcare world and the weather simulation world on how deeper models help us ask harder "what-if" questions. In effect he was challenging the data management community to reinvent itself as the "data and model management" community.

Traditional Database Research

Thomas Neumann of MPI gave a fun talk about compiled query processing for modern architectures.He argued that giving compilers a fighting chance to optimize your query plan after generating it in C++ (or LLVM) can be really good for query performance. In fact, with modern architectures, this might be required to get much better performance than the iterator pipelining model used in many commercial runtimes. Much of this builds on the observations that the MonetDB guys have made in the context of columnar processing techniques and the overheads of row-oriented operator pipelining-based runtimes, I expect this will be a good paper to read.

RemusDB, the best paper award winner, was an interesting talk that showed how VM-replication now performs well enough to be a way to provide High-Availability for any arbitrary database implementation. While this approach does make for a quick-and-dirty HA solution that deals with the primary failing, I'm not sure a VM level solution would work when the failed primary restarts and wants to rejoin the master-slave pair. Nevertheless, this will probably make a fun read for anyone interested in database systems.

HyPer -- a demo from some of the guys at TU-Munich , HYRISE -- from HPI and several others in academia have been playing with ideas for main-memory systems that can provide good OLTP performance while also supporting a reasonable OLAP workload. Their argument is that in most cases, you don't really need to have two separate systems -- one for OLTP and one for OLAP. I guess it is back to "one-size fits all" now eh?

There was also a cool paper on serializable snaphot isolation for replicated databases optimized for high update rates from folks at the University of Sydney and Seoul National University.

Industrial Talks

Google described Tenzing a SQL engine on MapReduce. The interesting part was that they worked with the MapReduce team quite a bit to make it possible to implement reasonably efficient join plans. The speaker flashed some slides that seemed to indicate that the per-node performance of Tenzing was "comparable" to a commercial database.

Ben Reed talked about "Inspector Gadget" -- a debugging tool for Pig that is currently in use at Yahoo! and has been open sourced as part of Pig 0.9.

Other Stuff

There were a bunch of interesting efforts around Hadoop and MapReduce that I'll write about in more detail later. There seemed to be some interest at the intersection of crowdsourcing and databases -- I'm still not sure I understand the opportunities there.

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