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How to deploy machine learning models with Azure Machine Learning

Jun 26, 2019 - 5 min read
Francesca Lazzeri

With machine learning only recently gaining popularity, most businesses are adding machine learning models to existing systems. Model deployment is the method to integrate a machine learning model into an existing production environment. If done well, this can empower a business to make data-driven decisions in just a few weeks. Knowledge of efficient model deployment is an essential skill to be competitive as a data scientists.

In this article you will learn to deploy your machine learning models with Azure Machine Learning.

Here’s what we’ll cover today:

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What is Azure Machine Learning?

Azure Machine Learning service is a cloud service that you use to train, deploy, automate, and manage machine learning models, all at the broad scale that the cloud provides. The service fully supports open-source technologies such as PyTorch, TensorFlow, and scikit-learn and can be used for any kind of machine learning, from classical ML to deep learning, supervised and unsupervised learning.

Moreover, Azure Machine Learning service introduces a new capability to help simplify model deployment process used in your machine learning lifecycle:


Some data scientists have difficulty getting an ML model prepared to run in a production system. To alleviate this, Azure Machine Learning can help you package and debug your machine learning models locally, prior to pushing them to the cloud.

This should greatly reduce the inner loop time required to iterate and arrive at a satisfactory inferencing service, prior to the packaged model reaching the datacenter.

The deployment workflow is similar regardless of where you deploy your model:

  1. Register the model.
  2. Prepare to deploy (specify assets, usage, compute target)
  3. Deploy the model to the compute target.
  4. Consume the deployed model, also called web service.

Next, we’ll cover the 4 steps to deploy ML models in Azure Machine Learning.

1. Register your model

Register your machine learning models in your Azure Machine Learning workspace. The model can come from Azure Machine Learning or can come from somewhere else. The following examples demonstrate how to register a model from file:

Register a model from an Experiment Run

Scikit-learn example using the SDK

model = run.register_model(model_name='sklearn_mnist', model_path='outputs/sklearn_mnist_model.pkl')
print(model.name, model.id, model.version, sep='\t')

Using the CLI

az ml model register -n sklearn_mnist --asset-path outputs/sklearn_mnist_model.pkl --experiment-name myexperiment

Using VS Code

Register models using any model files or folders with the Visual Studio Code extension.

Register an externally created model

You can register an externally created model by providing a local path to the model. You can provide either a folder or a single file.

ONNX example with the Python SDK

onnx_model_url = "https://www.cntk.ai/OnnxModels/mnist/opset_7/mnist.tar.gz"
urllib.request.urlretrieve(onnx_model_url, filename="mnist.tar.gz")
!tar xvzf mnist.tar.gz
model = Model.register(workspace = ws,
model_path ="mnist/model.onnx",
model_name = "onnx_mnist",
tags = {"onnx": "demo"},
description = "MNIST image classification CNN from ONNX Model Zoo",)

Using the CLI

az ml model register -n onnx_mnist -p mnist/model.onnx

2. Prepare to deploy

To deploy as a web service, you must create an inference configuration (InferenceConfig) and a deployment configuration. The entry script receives data submitted to a deployed web service and passes it to the model. It then takes the response returned by the model and returns that to the client.

The script contains two functions that load and run the model:

  • init(): Typically this function loads the model into a global object. This function is run only once when the Docker container for your web service is started.

  • run(input_data): This function uses the model to predict a value based on the input data. Inputs and outputs to the run typically use JSON for serialization and de-serialization. You can also work with raw binary data. You can transform the data before sending to the model, or before returning to the client.

3. Deploy to target

The following table provides an example of creating a deployment configuration for each compute target:

Compute target Deployment configuration example
Local deployment_config = LocalWebservice.deploy_configuration(port=8890)
Azure Container Instance deployment_config = AciWebservice.deploy_configuration(cpu_cores = 1, memory_gb = 1)
Azure Kubernetes Service deployment_config = AksWebservice.deploy_configuration(cpu_cores = 1, memory_gb = 1)

Let’s see together the example of using an existing AKS cluster using the Azure Machine Learning SDK, CLI, or the Azure portal. If you already have an AKS cluster attached, you can deploy to it:

Using the SDK

aks_target = AksCompute(ws,"myaks")

Note: If deploying to a cluster configured for dev/test, ensure that it was created with enough cores and memory to handle this deployment configuration. Remember that memory is also used by things such as dependencies and AML components.

deployment_config = AksWebservice.deploy_configuration(cpu_cores = 1, memory_gb = 1)
service = Model.deploy(ws, "aksservice", [model], inference_config, deployment_config, aks_target)
service.wait_for_deployment(show_output = True)

Using the CLI

az ml model deploy -ct myaks -m mymodel:1 -n aksservice -ic inferenceconfig.json -dc deploymentconfig.json

Using VS Code: You can also deploy to AKS via the VS Code extension, but you’ll need to configure AKS clusters in advance.

4. Consume web services

Every deployed web service provides a REST API, so you can create client applications in a variety of programming languages. If you have enabled authentication for your service, you need to provide a service key as a token in your request header.

Here is an example of how to invoke your service in Python:

import requests
import json
headers = {'Content-Type':'application/json'}
if service.auth_enabled:
headers['Authorization'] = 'Bearer '+ service.get_keys()[0]
test_sample = json.dumps({'data': [
response = requests.post(service.scoring_uri, data=test_sample, headers=headers)

You can send data to this API and receive the prediction returned by the model. The general workflow for creating a client that uses a machine learning web service is:

  1. Use the SDK to get the connection information.
  2. Determine the type of request data used by the model.
  3. Create an application that calls the web service.

What to learn next

In this article you learned the first steps of how to deploy your machine learning models with Azure Machine Learning. Azure Machine Learning can be used intensively across various notebooks for tasks relating to AI model development, such as:

  • Hyperparameter tuning
  • Tracking and monitoring metrics to enhance the model creation process
  • Scaling up and out on compute like DSVM and Azure ML Compute
  • Submitting pipelines

To prepare you for these tasks and a grander career in data science, Educative has created the Grokking Data Science course. Within you’ll learn to apply your Python skills to solve common data science problems. By the end, you’ll have mastered the basics of ML and data science and even applied them to your own coding project!

Happy learning!

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WRITTEN BYFrancesca Lazzeri

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