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By: Marshad MM

What is a Vector Database & Its Top 7 Key Features

Artificial Intelligence AI

Vector databases have become an essential component in the realm of artificial intelligence, particularly as applications involving large language models, generative AI, and semantic search continue to proliferate. At the core of these applications are vector embeddings, intricate representations of data generated by AI models, carrying essential semantic information crucial for understanding and executing complex tasks.
Vector databases have emerged to address the unique challenges posed by vector data. Unlike traditional scalar-based databases, vector databases are specifically designed to efficiently index and store vector embeddings, facilitating fast retrieval and similarity searches. These databases provide several features, such as horizontal scaling, metadata filtering, and CRUD operations.
Vector embeddings represent several data dimensions in the context of AI and machine learning, enabling a deeper comprehension of patterns, correlations, and underlying structures. Standalone vector indices, such as Facebook AI Similarity Search (FAISS), can enhance search and retrieval but lack the comprehensive features found in databases. Vector databases bridge this gap by combining the advantages of traditional databases with specialized handling of vector embeddings.
A vector database's workflow is creating vector embeddings for desired content using an embedding model and then inserting those embeddings into the database along with references to the original content. The database can return comparable vector embeddings linked to the original content by using the same embedding model to create query embeddings when a query is sent.
Vector databases distinguish themselves from standalone vector indices through various key features:
Data Management: Vector databases offer familiar data storage features, such as inserting, deleting, and updating data, simplifying the management of vector data compared to standalone vector indices.
Metadata Storage and Filtering: By storing the metadata connected to every vector entry, these databases let users conduct more thorough searches by applying extra metadata filters to their queries.
Scalability: Vector databases, which offer distributed and parallel processing, are built to withstand increasing data volumes and user demands with efficiency.
Real-time Updates: Real-time data updates are frequently supported by vector databases, enabling dynamic data modifications without necessitating a thorough re-indexing procedure.
Collections and Backups: Vector databases allow you to create collections, which are backups of particular indexes that you may choose from among all the data that is stored
Ecosystem Integration: These databases provide easy integration with a variety of AI-related applications and streamline data management processes by integrating with other parts of an ecosystem for data processing.
Data Security and Access Control: To safeguard sensitive data, vector databases usually include built-in data security and access control features.
Understanding how vector databases operate involves delving into the algorithms that optimize vector indexing and querying processes. Several algorithms contribute to the creation of a vector index, such as Random Projection, Product Quantization, Locality-Sensitive Hashing (LSH), and Hierarchical Navigable Small World (HNSW). These algorithms transform the representation of original vectors into compressed forms, enhancing the speed of the query process.
The choice of similarity measures in vector repositories is important because they determine how the repository compares vectors and identifies query-relevant results. Common similarity measures include cosine similarity, Euclidean distance, and dot product, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
Vector databases also incorporate metadata filtering, allowing users to filter results based on metadata queries. This involves maintaining two indexes—vector index and metadata index—and performing filtering either before or after the vector search, each with its trade-offs.
Key database operations in vector databases include performance and fault tolerance, monitoring, access control, backups and collections, and API and SDK support. Sharding and replication ensure high performance and fault tolerance while monitoring tracks aspects like resource usage and query performance. Access control is crucial for data protection and compliance, and backups safeguard against data loss.
In summary, vector databases play a pivotal role in managing vector embeddings, offering a purpose-built solution for the complexities of vector data in production scenarios. Their integration of advanced features, scalability, and security makes them indispensable for applications relying on vector embeddings, providing a streamlined and efficient data management experience.
To read more about AWS Sagemaker, refer to our blog What is AWS Sagemaker

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