Putting AI to work on a massive scale, Alibaba recently harnessed NVIDIA GPUs to serve its customers on 11/11, the year’s largest shopping event.
During Singles Day, as the Nov. 11 shopping event is also known, it generated $38 billion in sales. That’s up by nearly a quarter from last year’s $31 billion, and more than double online sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Singles Day — which has grown from $7 million a decade ago — illustrates the massive scale AI has reached in global online retail, where no player is bigger than Alibaba.
Each day, over 100 million shoppers comb through billions of available products on its site. Activity skyrockets on peak shopping days, when Alibaba’s systems field hundreds of thousands of queries a second.
And AI keeps things humming along, according to Lingjie Xu, Alibaba’s director of heterogeneous computing.
“To ensure these customers have a great user experience, we deploy state-of-the-art AI technology at massive scale using the NVIDIA accelerated computing platform, including T4 GPUs, cuBLAS, customized mixed precision and inference acceleration software,” he said.
“The platform’s intuitive search capabilities and reliable recommendations allow us to support a model six times more complex than in the past, which has driven a 10 percent improvement in click-through rate. Our largest model shows 100 times higher throughput with T4 compared to CPU,” he said.
One key application for Alibaba and other modern online retailers: recommender systems that display items that match user preferences, improving the click-through rate — which is closely watched in the e-commerce industry as a key sales driver.
Every small improvement in click-through rate directly impacts the user experience and revenues. A 10 percent improvement from advanced recommender models that can run in real time, and at incredible scale, is only possible with GPUs.
Alibaba’s teams employ NVIDIA GPUs to support a trio of optimization strategies around resource allocation, model quantization and graph transformation to increase throughput and responsiveness.
This has enabled NVIDIA T4 GPUs to accelerate Alibaba’s wide and deep recommendation model and deliver 780 queries per second. That’s a huge leap from CPU-based inference, which could only deliver three queries per second.
Alibaba has also deployed NVIDIA GPUs to accelerate its systems for automatic advertisement banner-generating, ad recommendation, imaging processing to help identify fake products, language translation, and speech recognition, among others. As the world’s third-largest cloud service provider, Alibaba Cloud provides a wide range of heterogeneous computing products capable of intelligent scheduling, automatic maintenance and real-time capacity expansion.
Alibaba’s far-sighted deployment of NVIDIA’s AI platform is a straw in the wind, indicating what more is to come in a burgeoning range of industries.
Just as its tools filter billions of products for millions of consumers, AI recommenders running on NVIDIA GPUs will find a place among other countless other digital services — app stores, news feeds, restaurant guides and music services among them — keeping customers happy.
Learn more about NVIDIA’s AI inference platform.