What is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a data science technique that allows computers to use existing data to forecast future behaviors, outcomes, and trends. Using machine learning, computers learn without being explicitly programmed.

Forecasts or predictions from machine learning can make apps and devices smarter. When you shop online, machine learning helps recommend other products you might like based on what you've purchased. When your credit card is swiped, machine learning compares the transaction to a database of transactions and helps detect fraud. When your robot vacuum cleaner vacuums a room, machine learning helps it decide whether the job is done.

What is Azure Machine Learning?

Azure Machine Learning is an integrated, end-to-end data science and advanced analytics solution. It enables data scientists to prepare data, develop experiments, and deploy models at cloud scale.

The main components of Azure Machine Learning are:

  • Azure Machine Learning Workbench
  • Azure Machine Learning Experimentation Service
  • Azure Machine Learning Model Management Service
  • Microsoft Machine Learning Libraries for Apache Spark (MMLSpark Library)
  • Visual Studio Code Tools for AI

Together, these applications and services help significantly accelerate your data science project development and deployment.

Azure Machine Learning Concepts

Open source compatible

Azure Machine Learning fully supports open source technologies. You can use tens of thousands of open source Python packages, such as the following machine learning frameworks:

You can execute your experiments in managed environments such as Docker containers and Spark clusters. You can also use advanced hardware such as GPU-enabled virtual machines in Azure to accelerate your execution.

Azure Machine Learning is built on top of the following open source technologies:

It also includes Microsoft's own open source technologies, such as Microsoft Machine Learning Library for Apache Spark and Cognitive Toolkit.

In addition, you also benefit from some of the most advanced, tried-and-true machine learning technologies developed by Microsoft designed to solve on large-scale problems. They are battle-tested in many Microsoft products, such as:

  • Windows
  • Bing
  • Xbox
  • Office
  • SQL Server

The following are some of the Microsoft machine learning technologies included with Azure Machine Learning:

Azure Machine Learning Workbench

Azure Machine Learning Workbench is a desktop application plus command-line tools, supported on both Windows and macOS. It allows you to manage machine learning solutions through the entire data science life cycle:

  • Data ingestion and preparation
  • Model development and experiment management
  • Model deployment in various target environments

Here are the core functionalities offered by Azure Machine Learning Workbench:

  • Data preparation tool that can learn data transformation logic by example.
  • Data source abstraction accessible through UX and Python code.
  • Python SDK for invoking visually constructed data preparation packages.
  • Built-in Jupyter Notebook service and client UX.
  • Experiment monitoring and management through run history views.
  • Role-based access control that enables sharing and collaboration through Azure Active Directory.
  • Automatic project snapshots for each run, and explicit version control enabled by native Git integration.
  • Integration with popular Python IDEs.

For more information, reference the following articles:

Azure Machine Learning Experimentation Service

The Experimentation Service handles the execution of machine learning experiments. It also supports the Workbench by providing project management, Git integration, access control, roaming, and sharing.

Through easy configuration, you can execute your experiments across a range of compute environment options:

  • Local native
  • Local Docker container
  • Docker container on a remote VM
  • Scale out Spark cluster in Azure

The Experimentation Service constructs virtual environments to ensure that your script can be executed in isolation with reproducible results. It records run history information and presents the history to you visually. You can easily select the best model out of your experiment runs.

For more information, please reference Experimentation Service Configuration.

Azure Machine Learning Model Management Service

Model Management Service allows data scientists and dev-ops teams to deploy predictive models into a wide variety of environments. Model versions and lineage are tracked from training runs to deployments. Models are stored, registered, and managed in the cloud.

Using simple CLI commands, you can containerize your model, scoring scripts and dependencies into Docker images. These images are registered in your own Docker registry hosted in Azure (Azure Container Registry). They can be reliably deployed to the following targets:

  • Local machines
  • On-premises servers
  • The cloud
  • IoT edge devices

Kubernetes running in the Azure Container Service (ACS) is used for cloud scale-out deployment. Model execution telemetry is captured in AppInsights for visual analysis.

For more information on Model Management Service, reference Model Management Overview

Microsoft Machine Learning Library for Apache Spark

The MMLSpark(Microsoft Machine Learning Library for Apache Spark) is an open-source Spark package that provides deep learning and data science tools for Apache Spark. It integrates Spark Machine Learning Pipelines with the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit and OpenCV library. It enables you to quickly create powerful, highly scalable predictive, and analytical models for large image and text datasets. Some highlights include:

  • Easily ingest images from HDFS into Spark DataFrame
  • Pre-process image data using transforms from OpenCV
  • Featurize images using pre-trained deep neural nets using the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit
  • Use pre-trained bidirectional LSTMs from Keras for medical entity extraction
  • Train DNN-based image classification models on N-Series GPU VMs on Azure
  • Featurize free-form text data using convenient APIs on top of primitives in SparkML via a single transformer
  • Train classification and regression models easily via implicit featurization of data
  • Compute a rich set of evaluation metrics including per-instance metrics

For more information, reference Using MMLSpark in Azure Machine Learning.

Visual Studio Code Tools for AI

Visual Studio Code Tools for AI is an extension in Visual Studio Code to build, test, and deploy Deep Learning and AI solutions. It features many integration points with Azure Machine Learning, including:

  • A run history view displaying the performance of training runs and logged metrics.
  • A gallery view allowing users to browse and bootstrap new projects with the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, TensorFlow, and many other deep-learning frameworks.
  • An explorer view for selecting compute targets for your scripts to execute.

What are the machine learning options from Microsoft?

Besides Azure Machine Learning, there are a wide variety of options in Azure to build, deploy, and manage machine learning models. Learn about them here.


You can try Azure Machine Learning for free. No credit card or Azure subscription is required. Get started now.

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