January 23, 202410 minute read
Embedding English Wikipedia in under 15 minutes

Text embeddings are a key component of production-ready applications using large language models (LLMs). A text embedding model transforms chunks of text into vectors of floating-point numbers that represent their semantic meaning, allowing us to quantitatively compare strings for similarity. Creating embeddings on a large corpus of text enables us to build applications like search and recommendation engines, as well as give additional context to LLMs for Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG) on custom documents.

Embedding models behind APIs like OpenAI’s text-embedding-ada-002 are a great way to get started with building for these use cases. However, as you gather user data and tailor your applications using that data, you will likely get higher-quality results at lower cost if you used this data to fine-tune an open-source embedding model. This requires setting up large-scale embedding jobs, which can be a challenge due to rate limits, infrastructure complexity, and the infeasibility of getting a large number of GPUs for short bursts of time. So what can we do? Enter Modal.

Modal provides a serverless solution for organizations grappling with scaling workloads. Modal’s technology enables rapid scaling across many GPUs, which we can use to run large-scale workloads, such as generating embeddings for a massive text dataset, at lightning speed. In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to embed the entire English Wikipedia in just 15 minutes using Hugging Face’s Text Embedding Inference service on Modal. Using Modal’s serverless solution, this job comes out to just over $15.

More specifically, we will:

  1. Discuss the advantages of using open source models.
  2. Explain the fundamentals of using Modal.
  3. Guide you through the necessary code to implement our embedding client on the Wikipedia dataset.

Shortening the embedding generation time from multiple hours to just a few minutes enables more frequent experimentation, which is crucial for continuous model fine-tuning in production use cases (as you have to regenerate embeddings for your entire corpus of data every time). In future posts, we’ll delve into using Modal for other aspects of this workflow (running grid search on and fine-tuning your own embedding models) to create more tailored user experiences.

Why open-source models?

Closed-source models are a great way to get started with creating and using embeddings, but they run into two critical limitations in production:

  1. As you run your model in production, you gather a corpus of rich preference data that can be used to improve the performance of your model. However, fine-tuning proprietary models with this custom data you’ve gathered is either impossible or highly cost-prohibitive.
  2. Remote APIs have a number of drawbacks, such as rate limits, unreliable tail latencies, and high costs associated with tokens rather than compute time.

For these reasons, we believe that open-source embedding models that progressively get better with fine-tuning are best suited for embedding use cases like RAG workflows in production. Thousands of open-source models are available on Hugging Face.

Why Modal?

Model makes it easy to run your code in the cloud and push to production. By only paying for what you use, and abstracting away all the complexity of deploying and serving, Modal provides a simplified process to help you focus on what’s important—your product.

To follow along with some of these examples, you’ll need to create a Modal account. You’ll get $30 out of the box and all of the features to try out immediately. Once you’ve done so, make sure to install the Modal Python package using a virtual environment of your choice, and you can run all of the code we provide below.

Before we dive into the code, let’s take a look at some of the key concepts that Modal provides that will allow us to run our embedding job quickly and efficiently. In order to understand that, we’ll need to look at two concepts - a Function and a Volume.


Modal functions package the code you want to run, along with their environment. They describe the image, the requirements, and the storage we want to attach in order to get the job done.

import modal

app = modal.App()

pandas_image = modal.Image.debian_slim().pip_install("pandas")
volume = modal.Volume.from_name("embedding-wikipedia", create_if_missing=True)

@app.function(image=pandas_image, gpu="A100", volumes={"/root/foo": volume})
def my_fn():
    # perform tasks here

Using Modal functions, you could for example, provision on-demand GPUs for fine-tuning workloads, define endpoints to serve large language models at scale, and even spin up hundreds of containers to process large datasets in parallel.


In order to load large datasets and models efficiently, we can use Modal’s Volumes feature. Volumes are a way to mount data into your containers and allow you to read and write to them as if they were a local file system. You can create a new volume using the modal volume create command.

Embedding Wikipedia

Now that we’ve got a good understanding of some key concepts that Modal provides, let’s load the wikipedia dataset in a persistent volume we’ve created called embedding-wikipedia, set up the Hugging Face inference server, and run our distributed batch GPU job to embed the entire dataset.

The Hugging Face inference server is a fast way to get started to test different models from Hugging Face. They offer an easy-to-use client and a wide range of configurations to make the most out of your infrastructure.

Loading the Dataset

We’ll be using the Hugging Face datasets library to download the dataset before saving it explicitly into a directory of our choice for future use. In order to do so, we’ll create a file called download.py, where we’ll create our first Modal image with the datasets package installed.

Note here that we explicitly need to commit and save new changes to our volume. If not, these changes will be discarded once the container is shut down. See more information in our docs here.

from modal import Image, Volume, App

volume = Volume.from_name("embedding-wikipedia")
image = Image.debian_slim().pip_install("datasets")

app = App(image=image)
cache_dir = "/data"

@app.function(volumes={cache_dir: volume}, timeout=3000)
def download_dataset(cache=False):
    from datasets import load_dataset

    # Download and save the dataset locally
    dataset = load_dataset("wikipedia", "20220301.en", num_proc=10)

    # Commit and save to the volume

You can then run this file by using the command

modal run download.py::download_dataset

Hugging Face Embedding Inference Server

For our embedding function, we’ll be using the Hugging Face Text Embedding Inference server. We’ll walk through how to leverage caching of model weights by defining another custom Modal image, managing container state through a Modal cls , and lastly, leveraging this new container in our other functions.


Let’s start by defining some parameters for the Text Embedding Inference program. In our case, we’re specifying the specific embedding model we’re using and increasing the maximum batch size so that we can speed up our embedding job.

MODEL_ID = "BAAI/bge-small-en-v1.5"

    str(BATCH_SIZE * 512),

Defining Our Image

We’ll be using the recommended image for A10G GPUs for this example. If you’d like to explore other GPU models, you should make sure to download the correct model listed here. Note that we also override the default entrypoint so that it is compatible with Modal.

tei_image = (
    .dockerfile_commands("ENTRYPOINT []")
    .pip_install("httpx", "numpy")

Creating our Modal Class

Using a Modal class enhances control over a container’s lifecycle (see more here):

  1. Cache model weights during image build with @build.
  2. Initialize once at boot with @enter.
  3. Handle calls from other functions using @method decorators.
  4. Clean up at shutdown with @exit.

By using the @build hook, we’re able to execute the spawn_server() function as part of the image build step and bake the downloaded weights into our image. This brings our startup time down to an incredible 2-4s from around 10-15s without any caching. That’s an almost 80% reduction in boot time with just a single line of code.

We initialize a server at boot, spinning out an inference server that maintains its state for subsequent requests and optimizes initialization costs. Modal simplifies lifecycle management by requiring only a couple function definitions and a decorator. Additionally, we configure the app class for specific images and GPUs through app.cls parameters. Once we’ve set this up, most of our code will focus on preparing our data and efficiently sending it to the TextEmbeddingsInference servers.

from modal import gpu, build, enter, exit, method

GPU_CONFIG = gpu.A10G()

def spawn_server() -> subprocess.Popen:
    import socket

    process = subprocess.Popen(["text-embeddings-router"] + LAUNCH_FLAGS)

    # Poll until webserver at accepts connections before running inputs.
    while True:
            socket.create_connection(("", 8000), timeout=1).close()
            print("Webserver ready!")
            return process
        except (socket.timeout, ConnectionRefusedError):
            # Check if launcher webserving process has exited.
            # If so, a connection can never be made.
            retcode = process.poll()
            if retcode is not None:
                raise RuntimeError(f"launcher exited unexpectedly with code {retcode}")

    image=tei_image, # This is defined above
class TextEmbeddingsInference:
    def download_model(self):
        # Wait for server to start. This downloads the model weights when not present.

    def open_connection(self):
        # If the process is running for a long time, the client does not seem to close the connections, results in a pool timeout
        from httpx import AsyncClient

        self.process = spawn_server()
        self.client = AsyncClient(base_url="", timeout=30)

    def terminate_connection(self, exc_type, exc_value, traceback):

    async def _embed(self, chunk_batch):
        texts = [chunk[3] for chunk in chunk_batch]
        res = await self.client.post("/embed", json={"inputs": texts})
        return np.array(res.json())

    async def embed(self, chunks):
        """Embeds a list of texts.  id, url, title, text = chunks[0]"""

        # in order to send more data per request, we batch requests to
        # `TextEmbeddingsInference` and make concurrent requests to the endpoint
        coros = [
            for chunk_batch in generate_batches(chunks, batch_size=BATCH_SIZE)

        embeddings = np.concatenate(await asyncio.gather(*coros))
        return chunks, embeddings.

Generating Embeddings

Let’s take stock of what we’ve achieved so far:

  • We first created a Modal App.
  • Then, we created a persistent Volume that could store data in between our script runs and downloaded the entirety of English Wikipedia into it.
  • Next, we put together our first Modal cls object using the Text Embedding Inference image from Docker and attached an A10G GPU to the class.
  • Lastly, we defined a method we could call from other app functions using the @method decorator.

Now, let’s see how to use the dataset that we downloaded with our container to embed all of Wikipedia. We’ll first write a small function to split our dataset into batches before seeing how we can get our custom Modal cls object to embed all of the chunks.

Chunking Text

We’ll be using the BAAI/bge-small-en-v1.5 model in order to embed all of our content. This model has state-of-the-art benchmark results at great peformance. It has a maximum sequence length of 512 tokens so we can’t pass in an entire chunk of text at once. Instead, we’ll split it into chunks of 400 characters for simplicity using the function below, but in practice you’ll want to split it more intelligently and include overlap between chunks to avoid losing information.

def generate_chunks_from_dataset(xs, chunk_size: int = 400):
    for data in xs:
        id_ = data["id"]
        url = data["url"]
        title = data["title"]
        text = data["text"]
        for chunk_start in range(0, len(text), chunk_size):
            yield (
                text[chunk_start : chunk_start + chunk_size],

To amortize the overhead of data transfer, we batch our generate_chunks_from_dataset chunks into batches of 512 chunks each. This allows us to pass in a batch of 512 chunks to our Modal cls object to embed at once.

def generate_batches(xs, batch_size=512):
    batch = []
    for x in xs:
        if len(batch) == batch_size:
            yield batch
            batch = []
    if batch:
        yield batch

Mapping the embedding function

After creating a function to batch our dataset, we can now pass these chunks to our Modal cls object for embedding. We use a custom image with the datasets library installed to easily load our dataset from disk. Additionally, we have logic to extract a subset of the dataset.

To call our custom Modal cls object and use the .embed function with our data batches, we simply use the .map function. Modal takes care of managing the containers, serializing and deserializing inputs, and handling the lifecycle of each container.

    volumes={cache_dir: volume},
def embed_dataset():
    dataset = load_from_disk(f"{cache_dir}/wikipedia")
    model = TextEmbeddingsInference()

    text_chunks = generate_chunks_from_dataset(dataset["train"], chunk_size=512)
    batches = generate_batches(text_chunks, batch_size=batch_size)

    # Collect the chunks and embeddings
    for batch_chunks, batch_embeddings in model.embed.map(batches, order_outputs=False):


Once we have this function we can use modal run on this main.py file to execute the specific function:

modal run main.py::embed_dataset

Further customization

Deploying on a schedule

In a production setting, you might want to run this on a schedule as new data comes in or as you get more user data. This allows you update data and models in production without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure. You just need to modify the @app.function decorator to add in a schedule parameter. This can be modified to any arbitrary period that you’d like to use depending on your use case.

from modal import Period


We can then deploy this function using the command

modal deploy --name wikipedia-embedding main.py

If you’d like to change the frequency, just change the schedule parameter and re-deploy, and you’re good to go!

Uploading your dataset

If you check out our example code, you’ll notice that we’ve uploaded the embedded dataset to a public Hugging Face dataset. We provide some details in the README on how to do this. In practice, how you handle this data will depend on your use case. You can also can follow similar steps to upload it to a private dataset or insert it into your favorite vector database.

GPUs go brr

For free accounts, Modal caps the concurrent number of GPUs that can be used to 10. Using 10 GPUs in parallel still greatly speeds up the embedding job, but if you are on a paid plan, the GPU limit can be raised.

All we really need to do then is crank up the value of concurrency_limit to a number like 50, and we’ll end up with 50 separate containers (each with their own A10G GPU) processing batches of text to be embedded.

    concurrency_limit=50,  # Number of concurrent containers that can be spawned to handle the task
class TextEmbeddingsInference:
    # Rest of code below


In this post, we show how to use some of Modal’s abstractions to run massive parallelizable jobs at scale. Having the ability to scale unlocks new business use cases for companies that can now iterate on production models more quickly and efficiently. By shortening the feedback loop with Modal’s serverless GPUs, teams are free to focus on experimentation and deployment.

We’ve uploaded our full code here, which helps you quickly get started and also showcases how to upload your own generated embeddings to Hugging Face. You can also check out some example datasets that contain embeddings we computed using some popular open source embedding models.

Try running your own large-scale batch jobs by creating your free Modal account, and follow @modal_labs on X/Twitter to stay posted on upcoming posts on further customizing your embeddings workflow.

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