SPANN: Highly-efficient Billion-scale Approximate Nearest Neighborhood Search

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

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Qi Chen, Bing Zhao, Haidong Wang, Mingqin Li, Chuanjie Liu, Zengzhong Li, Mao Yang, Jingdong Wang


The in-memory algorithms for approximate nearest neighbor search (ANNS) have achieved great success for fast high-recall search, but are extremely expensive when handling very large scale database. Thus, there is an increasing request for the hybrid ANNS solutions with small memory and inexpensive solid-state drive (SSD). In this paper, we present a simple but efficient memory-disk hybrid indexing and search system, named SPANN, that follows the inverted index methodology. It stores the centroid points of the posting lists in the memory and the large posting lists in the disk. We guarantee both disk-access efficiency (low latency) and high recall by effectively reducing the disk-access number and retrieving high-quality posting lists. In the index-building stage, we adopt a hierarchical balanced clustering algorithm to balance the length of posting lists and augment the posting list by adding the points in the closure of the corresponding clusters. In the search stage, we use a query-aware scheme to dynamically prune the access of unnecessary posting lists. Experiment results demonstrate that SPANN is 2X faster than the state-of-the-art ANNS solution DiskANN to reach the same recall quality 90% with same memory cost in three billion-scale datasets. It can reach 90% recall@1 and recall@10 in just around one millisecond with only about 10% of original memory cost. Code is available at: