Create, Store and Query OpenAI Embeddings With PGVector: A Deep Dive into Scalable AI-Powered Lodging Recommendations

November 1, 2023


In today's data-driven era, Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications have become pivotal in offering tailored user experiences. As these applications continue to grow in complexity and the volume of data they handle, there's a pressing need to scale them efficiently. Scalability not only ensures that the application performs optimally under increased load but also guarantees that the user experience remains seamless. With the combination of powerful AI tools and advanced databases, developers now have the means to design scalable and robust solutions that can handle large datasets and deliver real-time results.

The Role of OpenAI Embeddings API and PostgreSQL PGVector Extension

OpenAI, known for its cutting-edge AI models like GPT-4, has introduced the Embeddings API that allows developers to convert text into high-dimensional vectors. These embeddings are compact representations of textual data which can be used for various AI tasks like similarity search, clustering, and more.

On the other hand, PostgreSQL, one of the most popular relational databases, has seen the emergence of the PGVector extension. This extension is specifically designed to store and search through large vectors efficiently. When combined with OpenAI's Embeddings API, PGVector unlocks the potential to perform lightning-fast similarity searches on massive datasets, bringing the best of AI and database worlds together.

AI-Powered Lodging Recommendations

Considering the vast potential of this combination, we've designed a sample application focused on providing lodging recommendations for travelers heading to San Francisco. This application leverages both the OpenAI Chat Completion API and the PostgreSQL PGVector extension to deliver real-time suggestions. Whether a user is looking for a cozy apartment near the iconic Golden Gate Bridge or a luxurious hotel with a bay view, this application is equipped to understand the nuances of user queries and provide the most relevant lodging options. By navigating through this application, users can experience two distinct modes:

  • OpenAI Chat Mode: Here lodging recommendations are dynamically generated based on the user's input, using the GPT-4 model.
  • Postgres Embeddings Mode: In this mode, the backend first creates an embedding of the user's input using the OpenAI Embeddings API. Following this, the PostgreSQL PGVector extension is employed to quickly search through sample Airbnb properties stored in the database, matching the embedding closest to the user's requirements.

Scaling Challenges and Solutions

Scaling AI applications, especially those dealing with massive datasets, presents a unique set of challenges. Addressing these challenges often requires a combination of sophisticated AI tools and database optimizations. Let's explore some of the significant challenges and their solutions:

The Structure of Data: Description Embeddings for Airbnb Listings

The data structure plays a crucial role in determining how efficiently an application can scale. In our application, we focus on Airbnb listings, each with a unique textual description. Representing these descriptions in their original textual form can be inefficient for similarity searches and comparisons.

Solution: Leveraging OpenAI's Embeddings API, each description is transformed into a high-dimensional vector, often referred to as 'embedding'. These embeddings offer a compact representation of the listing while retaining the essential features and semantics. This transformation not only reduces the data size but also makes similarity searches much more efficient.

Limitations of Full Table Scans in Postgres

When dealing with large datasets in a relational database like PostgreSQL, full table scans can become a bottleneck. A full table scan requires the database to go through every record in the table to find matches which are time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially for large tables.

Solution: Instead of relying on full table scans, we can use database optimizations like indexing.

Use of Indexes for Improved Scalability

Indexes provide a faster way to search and retrieve data by creating a data structure (like a B-tree) that can be traversed quickly. For textual data or embeddings, creating efficient indexes can significantly reduce search times.

Solution: While traditional indexes like B-trees are useful for specific columns and data types, dealing with high-dimensional vectors requires specialized indexing techniques. This is where the HNSW (Hierarchical Navigable Small World) index comes into play.

HNSW Index: Explanation and Implementation

HNSW, or Hierarchical Navigable Small World, is a state-of-the-art indexing method specifically designed for high-dimensional data. It creates a multi-layered structure where each layer contains a subset of the data points. By doing so, it allows for quick traversal and efficient similarity search among vectors.

Implementation: With the PGVector extension in PostgreSQL, implementing the HNSW index becomes straightforward. Once the Airbnb descriptions are transformed into embeddings and stored in the database, an HNSW index can be created on the embeddings column. This index drastically reduces search time, making it feasible to fetch real-time lodging recommendations even with a vast dataset.

Alternative Scaling Solutions

As the demand for real-time AI applications grows, so does the need for scalable database solutions that can handle massive datasets while delivering high performance. One such solution is YugabyteDB, which offers a distributed alternative to traditional databases. Here's an exploration of this powerful tool:


YugabyteDB is an open-source, high-performance distributed SQL database that is built on a global-scale architecture. It has been designed to provide RDBMS-like functionalities while ensuring horizontal scalability, strong consistency, and global data distribution. What makes YugabyteDB stand out is its compatibility with PostgreSQL, enabling developers to utilize their existing PostgreSQL expertise.


YugabyteDB offers several compelling advantages as a distributed database:

  • Horizontal Scalability: As your data grows, you can easily add more nodes to your YugabyteDB cluster, allowing it to handle more data and traffic seamlessly.
  • Global Data Distribution: YugabyteDB is designed for global deployments. This means you can have nodes in different geographic locations and ensure low-latency access for users across the globe.
  • Strong Consistency: Despite being a distributed database, YugabyteDB offers strong consistency, ensuring that every read receives the most recent write.
  • Built-in Fault Tolerance: With automatic sharding and replication, YugabyteDB is resilient to failures. If a node goes down, traffic is automatically rerouted to healthy nodes.
  • PostgreSQL Compatibility: Developers can leverage their existing knowledge and tools built around PostgreSQL, making the transition smoother.

Integration Steps with PGVector

Integrating YugabyteDB with the PGVector extension for storing and searching embeddings is a straightforward process:

  • Installation: Start by setting up a YugabyteDB cluster, either on-premise or in the cloud. The provided Docker commands can be used to quickly deploy a multi-node YugabyteDB cluster.
  • Activate PGVector: Once YugabyteDB is running, the next step is to activate the PGVector extension. This can be done using a simple SQL command, much like you would in a traditional PostgreSQL setup.
  • Data Migration: If you're moving from a traditional PostgreSQL instance, migrate your data to YugabyteDB. Tools like pg_dump and pg_restore can aid in this process.
  • Create HNSW Index: After storing the embeddings in YugabyteDB, create an HNSW index on the embeddings column to optimize search performance.
  • Update Application Configuration: Finally, update your application's database connection configurations to point to the YugabyteDB instance.

With YugabyteDB and PGVector, developers have a powerful combination at their disposal, enabling them to scale AI applications efficiently and ensuring they are ready for future growth.

Detailed Walkthrough of the Sample Application

Building a scalable, AI-powered application requires an intricate interplay of AI capabilities, data management, and responsive design. In this section, we'll dive deep into the architecture and functionality of the sample application designed to provide lodging recommendations for travelers heading to San Francisco.

Modes of Operation

The application operates in two distinct modes, each offering its unique approach to generate lodging recommendations:

OpenAI Chat Mode

  • In this mode, the Node.js backend interfaces directly with the OpenAI Chat Completion API.
  • The application feeds user input to the GPT-4 model, which generates lodging recommendations based on the context and content of the input.
  • Ideal for detailed, conversational requests where the user is looking for specific or nuanced recommendations.

Postgres Embeddings Mode

  • The backend first uses the OpenAI Embeddings API to generate an embedding vector from the user's input.
  • It then leverages the PostgreSQL PGVector extension to perform a vector search amongst sample Airbnb properties stored in the database.
  • This mode offers a faster, more direct method of matching user input with database records.

Prerequisites and Required Subscriptions

Before diving into the application set-up, ensure you have the necessary tools and subscriptions:

  • A working Node.js environment.
  • A CA ChatGPT Plus subscription. If you've exhausted the initial free credits, head to the OpenAI platform to get your subscription.

Database Setup

The database is central to the Postgres Embeddings mode. You have two options for setting it up: YugabyteDB, or traditional PostgreSQL, each with its merits.

Using YugabyteDB: Steps and Docker Commands:

  • Initialization:
  • Create a directory for YugabyteDB data storage with

mkdir ~/yb_docker_data.
  • Cluster Deployment:
  • Deploy a 3-node YugabyteDB cluster using the official Docker commands from official YugabyteDB git. (See Appendix A.)
  • Each node runs within its docker container and communicates via a custom network.
  • Database Configuration:
  • Run the SQL script provided to create a sample listings table and activate the PGVector extension. For instance, the below script is used for Airbnb listings.

psql -h -p 5433 -U yugabyte -d yugabyte {project_dir}/sql/airbnb_listings.sql
  • Update the application's database connectivity settings in the properties file to match the YugabyteDB configurations.

Using PostgreSQL: Steps and Docker Commands

  • Initialization:
  • Begin by creating a directory for PostgreSQL data storage: mkdir ~/postgresql_data/.
  • Postgres Deployment:
  • Launch a PostgreSQL instance using the Docker image that comes pre-equipped with the pgvector extension.

docker run --name postgresql \
    -e POSTGRES_USER=postgres -e POSTGRES_PASSWORD=password \
    -p 5432:5432 \
    -v ~/postgresql_data/:/var/lib/postgresql/data -d ankane/pgvector:latest

  • Database Configuration:
  • As with YugabyteDB, execute the SQL script to establish the Airbnb listings table and initiate the PGVector extension.

Once the database is set up, the application's backend and frontend can be initiated, allowing users to explore the dual modes of operation. This detailed walkthrough offers a comprehensive understanding of the application's architecture and functionalities, making it easier to replicate, modify, or enhance as per individual requirements.

Loading the Sample Data Set

To ensure the sample application runs smoothly and can produce meaningful lodging recommendations, we need to populate our database with a comprehensive set of sample listings. This process involves not just importing raw data but also creating embeddings that the system can use to match user queries to the relevant listings.

Methods to Populate Data

There are two primary methods to populate the database with the necessary embeddings:

  • Generating Embeddings Using OpenAI Embeddings’ API:
  • This method involves taking raw listing descriptions and processing them through the OpenAI Embeddings API to generate embeddings on-the-fly.
  • Benefits:
  • Always up-to-date: Generates embeddings using the latest version of the OpenAI model.
  • Flexibility: You can continuously add new listings and generate embeddings in real-time.
  • Preparation:
  • Ensure you have a clean dataset of Airbnb listings with fields like title, description, location, etc.
  • Set up your OpenAI API key and environment.
  • Embedding Generation:
  • Loop through each listing in the dataset.
  • Send the description of each listing to the OpenAI Embeddings API.
  • Store the returned embedding vector alongside the listing in the database.
  • Validation:
  • Randomly sample a few records from the database.
  • Ensure that the embeddings have been correctly associated with the respective listings.
  • Importing Pre-Generated Embeddings:
  • In scenarios where you already have a dataset of pre-generated embeddings, you can import them directly into the database.
  • Benefits:
  • Speed: Faster than generating embeddings on-the-fly, especially when dealing with a large dataset.
  • Consistency: Ensures you're working with a consistent set of embeddings across various tests or runs of the application.
  • Data Inspection:
  • Examine the dataset containing pre-generated embeddings to ensure it is structured correctly. Typically, it should have the raw listing data alongside an associated embedding vector.
  • Data Import:
  • Use your database management tool or scripts to import the dataset into the Airbnb listings table.
  • Ensure that the embeddings and raw data align correctly during import.
  • Validation:
  • As with the previous method, randomly sample a few records.
  • Verify that the embeddings have been correctly imported and match the respective listings.

Starting the Application

Launching the AI-powered lodging recommendation application involves a multi-step process that requires attention to both the backend and frontend components. By following a structured approach, you can ensure a seamless experience for end users.

Configuring and Running the Node.js Backend

  • Prerequisites:
  • Ensure you have Node.js and npm installed on your system.
  • Check that you have all necessary environment variables set, including database connection strings, OpenAI API keys, and any other relevant configurations.
  • Installation:
  • Navigate to the root directory of the backend project.
  • Run the command npm install to install all the necessary dependencies.
  • Configuration:
  • Verify the .env file or equivalent configuration file for correct settings.
  • Ensure database connection settings are accurate and that the database is accessible.
  • Starting the Server:
  • In the root directory of the backend project, run the command npm start.
  • Check the console for any errors. Ideally, you should see a message indicating that the server is running and the port number on which it is listening.

Setting Up and Launching the React Frontend

  • Prerequisites and Installation as per Node.js
  • Configuration:
  • Open the configuration or settings file (often located in a src/config directory).
  • Confirm the backend API endpoint is correctly set to match where your backend server is running.
  • Starting the Application:
  • From the root directory, execute npm start.
  • This command should launch the React application in your default web browser.

How to Access and Use the Application

  • Accessing the Application:
  • If the React application doesn't open automatically on your browser, navigate to the URL provided in the terminal (commonly http://localhost:3000).
  • Navigation:
  • The main page will display a search bar or interface to input your lodging requirements.
  • Additional navigation options or menu items may be available, depending on the features implemented.
  • Using the Recommendation Feature:
  • Input your lodging preferences, such as location, type of lodging, or other specific features.
  • Click on the 'Search' or 'Recommend' button.
  • The system will process the request using the embeddings and provide a list of recommended lodgings based on the criteria you provided.

Starting and using the lodging recommendation application is straightforward once you have all the components properly set up. Ensure that both the backend and frontend components are correctly configured and communicating with each other for optimal performance.


In the modern digital age, the integration of AI with traditional systems, like databases, has paved the way for groundbreaking advancements and opportunities in various sectors. This collaboration between OpenAI and databases exemplifies the endless potential of marrying two seemingly disparate technologies for creating real-time AI applications.

Harnessing the capabilities of OpenAI, specifically the OpenAI Embeddings API, allows us to understand and process vast amounts of textual information in meaningful ways. This understanding, when combined with the robust storage and retrieval mechanisms offered by databases such as PostgreSQL and YugabyteDB, results in an application set-up that can handle real-time requests efficiently.

The efficiency of this proposed set-up is further accentuated when one considers the challenges of scaling. Traditionally, databases would have to perform full-table scans to retrieve relevant data; but with the incorporation of extensions like PGVector and technologies like HNSW indexes, the speed and accuracy of these retrievals are greatly enhanced. This translates to quicker response times for end-users, making their experience smoother and more intuitive.

Moreover, the flexibility of the system's design ensures that it's not limited to just one type of database. The ease with which it integrates with distributed databases like YugabyteDB, built on PostgreSQL, demonstrates its adaptability and readiness for future scaling and expansion.

In essence, the fusion of OpenAI's capabilities with the proven reliability and speed of modern databases showcases a promising frontier for AI applications. Not only does it underscore the power and potential of AI in transforming traditional systems, it also highlights the speed, efficiency, and scalability that such a set-up can offer. As we move forward, this synergy will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping the future of AI-powered applications, making them more accessible, efficient, and user-friendly for all.


Appendix A

mkdir ~/yb_docker_data

docker network create custom-network

docker run -d --name yugabytedb_node1 --net custom-network \
    -p 15433:15433 -p 7001:7000 -p 9001:9000 -p 5433:5433 \
    -v ~/yb_docker_data/node1:/home/yugabyte/yb_data --restart unless-stopped \
    yugabytedb/yugabyte: \
    bin/yugabyted start \
    --base_dir=/home/yugabyte/yb_data --daemon=false

docker run -d --name yugabytedb_node2 --net custom-network \
    -p 15434:15433 -p 7002:7000 -p 9002:9000 -p 5434:5433 \
    -v ~/yb_docker_data/node2:/home/yugabyte/yb_data --restart unless-stopped \
    yugabytedb/yugabyte: \
    bin/yugabyted start --join=yugabytedb_node1 \
    --base_dir=/home/yugabyte/yb_data --daemon=false
docker run -d --name yugabytedb_node3 --net custom-network \
    -p 15435:15433 -p 7003:7000 -p 9003:9000 -p 5435:5433 \
    -v ~/yb_docker_data/node3:/home/yugabyte/yb_data --restart unless-stopped \
    yugabytedb/yugabyte: \
    bin/yugabyted start --join=yugabytedb_node1 \
    --base_dir=/home/yugabyte/yb_data --daemon=false
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