Overall Objectives
Scientific Foundations
Application Domains
New Results
Contracts and Grants with Industry
Other Grants and Activities

Section: Scientific Foundations

Keywords : Data management, database, distributed database, multimedia, summaries, fuzzy logic, model engineering, distributed systems.

Scientific Foundations

Data Management

Data management is concerned with the storage, organisation, retrieval and manipulation of data of all kinds, from small and simple to very large and complex. It has become a major domain of computer science, with a large international research community and a strong industry. Continuous technology transfer from research to industry has led to the development of powerful DBMSs, now at the heart of any information system, and of advanced data management capabilities in many kinds of software products (application servers, document systems, directories, etc.).

The fundamental principle behind data management is data abstraction, which enables applications and users to deal with the data at a high conceptual level while ignoring implementation details. The relational model, by resting on a strong theory (set theory and first-order logic) to provide data independence, has revolutionized database management. The major innovation of relational DBMS has been to allow data manipulation through queries expressed in a high-level (declarative) language such as SQL. Queries can then be automatically translated into optimized query plans that take advantage of underlying access methods and indices. Many other advanced capabilities have been made possible by data independence : data and metadata modelling, schema management, consistency through integrity triggers, transaction support, etc.

This data independence principle has also enabled DBMS to continuously integrate new advanced capabilities such as objet and XML support and to adapt to all kinds of hardware/software platforms from very small smart devices (PDA, smart card, etc.) to very large computers (multiprocessor, cluster, etc.) in distributed environments.

Following the invention of the relational model, research in data management continued with the elaboration of strong database theory (query languages, schema normalization, complexity of data management algorithms, transaction theory, etc.) and the design and implementation of DBMS. For a long time, the focus was on providing advanced database capabilities with good performance, for both transaction processing and decision support applications. And the main objective was to support all these capabilities within a single DBMS.

Today's hard problems in data management go well beyond the traditional context of DBMS. These problems stem from the need to deal with data of all kinds, in particular, text and multimedia, in highly distributed environments. Thus, we also capitalize on scientific foundations in multimedia data management, fuzzy logic, model engineering and distributed systems to address these problems.

Multimedia Data Management

Multimedia data such as image, audio or video is quite different from structured data and semi-structured (text) data in that it is media-specific (with specific operations) and described by metadata. Furthermore, useful representations of multimedia data, that are involved in storage and computation phases, are possibly voluminous and generally defined in high-dimensional spaces. Multimedia data management aims at providing high-level capabilities for organizing, searching and manipulating multimedia collections efficiently and accurately. To address this objective, we rely on the following research areas which we list in an order corresponding to the data flow: multimedia data analysis and pattern recognition, information retrieval and databases (mostly distributed). The overall architecture remains organised around the three fundamental parts of database design: modelling, querying and indexing. However, they have to be considerably adapted in order to manipulate multimedia data while maintaining the desired abstraction level.

With respect to modelling, multimedia data analysis performs automatic translation of raw multimedia data into sets of discriminant, concise descriptions that are used for indexing and searching. These descriptions range from low-level transforms on the original data (e.g. image texture features), that translate into feature vectors, to more abstract representations (e.g. parametric models), that often attempt to capture a class rather than an instance of multimedia elements. Furthermore, media content creators may add metadata information that conveys more semantics. Briefly stated, multimedia data analysis deals with the design of suitable observations from multimedia and pattern recognition techniques. Its interdependence with information retrieval and databases has encouraged the development of dedicated research branches, since many interesting applications consider multimedia information retrieval on voluminous data. Our work follows this direction.

Querying has been concerned with the conceptual access to data by the user with a high-level (SQL-like) query language on user-defined schemas. In contrast, techniques for querying multimedia data come from the information retrieval community. Athough extensible, each content-based multimedia system relies on a single, well-defined schema (similar to the document-term matrix from textual documents). Similarly, the common query in multimedia is a similarity search where the objects retrieved are ordered according to some scores based on a distance function defined on a feature vector, rather than a boolean expression. Similarly, relevance feedback has been introduced early in content-based systems since it is impossible to provide a concise description of a user's needs. In this respect, multimedia querying becomes mainly an interactive activity. Finally, it appears that several difficulties can be overcome by clustering multimedia data, something which is not new in databases, e.g., datawarehouses, but has to be done in a totally different way.

These important differences lead to reconsidering indexing too. Indexing is concerned with the physical access to multimedia data. The aim of indices is to rapidly access the data requested by the query. Efficient multimedia descriptors often span high dimensional spaces (say, 10 to 1,000 dimensions) since, to some extent, more features means more discriminant. Application of classical indexing structures (tree-based and hashing-based) supplied by database research is not effective, at least not in the straightforward manner, because these structures suffer from the ``dimensionality curse problem'', which states that the performance of indexing (and thus querying) degrades severely as the data dimensionality increases, in particular in the abovementioned dimension range. This particular issue is currently attracting much interest. The general problem is to achieve both high effectiveness , i.e., retrieving multimedia data that correspond to the user's needs and efficiency in order to scale up to large multimedia databases.

Fuzzy Logic

The ever growing size of databases makes data summarization needed in order to present the user a concise and complete view of the database. Our proposed summarization process [8] can roughly be described as a two step process. The first step is to rewrite the original database records into an unified user-oriented vocabulary. The second step is then to use a concept formation algorithm against the rewritten data. The fuzzy set theory provides mathematical foundations to manage these two steps in a more user-friendly and robust way than can be achieved with first order logic. Fuzzy sets theory was introduced by L.A. Zadeh in 1965 in order to model sets whose boundaries are not sharp. A fuzzy (sub)set F of an universe $ \upper_omega$ is defined thanks to a membership function denoted by $ \mu$F which maps every element x of $ \upper_omega$ into a degree $ \mu$F(x) in the unit interval [0, 1] . Thus, a fuzzy set is a generalization of regular set (whose membership function is defined on the pair (0,1).

In the first step, database tuples are rewritten using a user defined vocabulary. This vocabulary is intended to match as well as possible the natural language in which users express their knowledge. A database user usually refers to his or her data using a vocabulary appropriate for his field of expertise and understood by his or her fellows. For example, a salary will be said to be high, reasonable or average. This description in fact is an implicit categorization and there is no crisp border line between an average and a high salary. Fuzzy logic offers the mathematical ground to define such a vocabulary in terms of linguistic variables where each data is more or less satisfactorily described by the concept.

In a concept formation algorithm, new data are incorporated into a concept hierarchy using a local optimization criteria to decide how the hierarchy should be modified. A quality measure is evaluated to compare the effect of operators that modify the hierarchy topology namely, creating a new node, creating a new level, merging two nodes, or splitting one. Using fuzzy logic in the evaluation of this measure, our concept formation algorithm is less prone to suffer the well known threshold effect of similar incremental algorithms.

Database query languages are typically based on first order logic. To allow for more flexible manipulation of large quantities of data, we rest on fuzzy logic to handle flexible querying and approximate answering. Using the database summary, queries with too few results can be relaxed to retrieve partially satisfactory subsets of the database. The fuzzy matching mechanism also allows handling user queries expressed in vague or imprecise terms.

Model Engineering

A model is a formal description of a design artefact such as a relational schema, an XML schema, a UML model or an ontology. Data and meta-data modelling have been studied by the database community for a long time. We also witness the impact of similar principles in software engineering. Metamodels are used today to define domain specific languages that may help capturing the various aspects of complex systems. Models are no more viewed as contemplative artefacts, used only for documentation or for programmer inspiration. In the new vision, models become computer-understandable and may be applied a number of precise operations. Among these operations, model transformation is of high practical importance to map business expression onto executable distributed platforms but also of high theoretical interest because it allows establishing precise correspondences between various representation systems without ambiguity and, as such, is leverage for synchronization. Modelling naturally comes along with correspondences and constraints between models, i.e. the representation of a system by a model, the conformance of a model to a metamodel and the relation of one metamodel with another expressed by a transformation. In this area, research focuses on constraint languages and the traceability of transformations.

Considering models, meta-models, and model transformations as first class elements yields much genericity and flexibility to build complex data-intensive systems. A central problem of these systems is data mapping, i.e. mapping heterogeneous data from one representation to another. Examples can be found in different contexts such as schema integration in distributed databases, data transformation for data warehousing, data integration in mediator systems, data migration from legacy systems, ontology merging, schema mapping in P2P systems, etc. A data mapping typically specifies how data from one source representation (e.g. a relational schema) can be translated to a target representation (e.g. another, different relational schema or an XML schema). Generic model management has recently gained much interest to support arbitrary mappings between different representation languages.

Distributed Data Management

The Atlas project-team considers data management in the context of distributed systems, with the objective of making distribution transparent to the users and applications. Thus we capitalise on the principles of distributed systems, in particular, large-scale distributed systems such as clusters, grid, and peer-to-peer (P2P) systems, to address issues in data replication and high availability, transaction load balancing, and query processing.

Data management in distributed systems has been traditionally achieved by distributed database systems which enable users to transparently access and update several databases in a network using a high-level query language (e.g. SQL) [4] . Transparency is achieved through a global schema which hides the local databases' heterogeneity. In its simplest form, a distributed database system is a centralized server that supports a global schema and implements distributed database techniques (query processing, transaction management, consistency management, etc.). This approach has proved effective for applications that can benefit from centralized control and full-fledge database capabilities, e.g. information systems. However, it cannot scale up to more than tens of databases. Data integration systems extend the distributed database approach to access data sources on the Internet with a simpler query language in read-only mode.

Parallel database systems also extend the distributed database approach to improve performance (transaction throughput or query response time) by exploiting database partitioning using a multiprocessor or cluster system. Although data integration systems and parallel database systems can scale up to hundreds of data sources or database partitions, they still rely on a centralized global schema and strong assumptions about the network.

In contrast, peer-to-peer (P2P) systems adopt a completely decentralized approach to data sharing. By distributing data storage and processing across autonomous peers in the network, they can scale without the need for powerful servers. Popular examples of P2P systems such as Gnutella and Kaaza have millions of users sharing petabytes of data over the Internet. Although very useful, these systems are quite simple (e.g. file sharing), support limited functions (e.g. keyword search) and use simple techniques (e.g. resource location by flooding) which have performance problems. To deal with the dynamic behavior of peers that can join and leave the system at any time, they rely on the fact that popular data get massively duplicated.

Initial research on P2P systems has focused on improving the performance of query routing in the unstructured systems which rely on flooding. This work led to structured solutions based on distributed hash tables (DHT), e.g. CAN and CHORD, or hybrid solutions with super-peers that index subsets of peers. Although these designs can give better performance guarantees, more research is needed to understand their trade-offs between fault-tolerance, scalability, self-organization, etc.

Recently, other work has concentrated on supporting advanced applications which must deal with semantically rich data (e.g., XML documents, relational tables, etc.) using a high-level SQL-like query language. Such data management in P2P systems is quite challenging because of the scale of the network and the autonomy and unreliable nature of peers. Most techniques designed for distributed database systems which statically exploit schema and network information no longer apply. New techniques are needed which should be decentralized, dynamic and self-adaptive.


Logo Inria