An automated entity–relationship clustering algorithm for conceptual database design

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Entity–relationship (ER) modeling is a widely accepted technique for conceptual database design. However, the complexities inherent in large ER diagrams have restricted the effectiveness of their use in practice. It is often difficult for end-users, or even for well-trained database engineers and designers, to fully understand and properly manage large ER diagrams. Hence, to improve their understandability and manageability, large ER diagrams need to be decomposed into smaller modules by clustering closely related entities and relationships. Previous researchers have proposed many manual and semi-automatic approaches for such clustering. However, most of them call for intuitive and subjective judgment from “experts” at various stages of their implementation. We present a fully automated algorithm that eliminates the need for subjective human judgment. In addition to improving their understandability and manageability, an automated algorithm facilitates the re-clustering of ER diagrams as they undergo many changes during their design, development, and maintenance phases.

The validation methodology used in this study considers a set of both objective and subjective criteria for comparison. We adopted several concepts and metrics from machine-part clustering in cellular manufacturing (CM) while exploiting some of the characteristics of ER diagrams that are different from typical CM situations. Our algorithm uses well established criteria for good ER clustering solutions. These criteria were also validated by a group of expert database engineers and designers at NASA. An objective assessment of sample problems shows that our algorithm produces solutions with a higher degree of modularity and better goodness of fit compared with solutions produced by two commonly used alternative algorithms. A subjective assessment of sample problems by our expert database engineers and designers also found our solutions preferable to those produced by the two alternative algorithms.




Tavana, M., Joglekar, P. and Redmond, M. (2007) ‘An Automated Entity-Relationship Clustering Algorithm for Conceptual Database Design,’ Information Systems, Vol. 32, No. 5, pp. 773-792.