Data integration involves combining data residing in different sources and providing users with a unified view of these data. This process becomes significant in a variety of situations, which include both commercial (when two similar companies need to merge their databases) and scientific (combining research results from different repositories, for example) domains. Data integration appears with increasing frequency as the volume and the need to share existing data explodes.
Some of the work in data integration research concerns the semantic integration problem. This problem addresses not the structuring of the architecture of the integration, but how to resolve semantic conflicts between heterogeneous data sources. For example, if two companies merge their databases, certain concepts and definitions in their respective schemas like “earnings” inevitably have different meanings. In one database it may mean profits in dollars (a floating-point number), while in the other it might represent the number of sales (an integer).
A common strategy for the resolution of such problems involves the use of ontologies which explicitly define schema terms and thus help to resolve semantic conflicts. This approach represents ontology-based data integration. On the other hand, the problem of combining research results from different repositories requires bench-marking of the similarities, computed from different data sources, on a single criterion such as positive predictive value. This enables the data sources to be directly comparable and can be integrated even when the natures of experiments are distinct.
Commonality relationships are a peer-to-peer type of entity relationships that relate the standardized data entities of multiple data models. Multiple data models that contain the same standard data entity may participate in the same commonality relationship. When integrated data models are instantiated as databases and are properly populated from a common set of master data, then these databases are integrated.