Tutorial: Deploy an image classification model in Azure Container Instances

This tutorial is part two of a two-part tutorial series. In the previous tutorial, you trained machine learning models and then registered a model in your workspace on the cloud. Now you're ready to deploy the model as a web service. A web service is an image, in this case a Docker image. It encapsulates the scoring logic and the model itself.

In this part of the tutorial, you use Azure Machine Learning for the following tasks:

  • Set up your testing environment.
  • Retrieve the model from your workspace.
  • Deploy the model to Container Instances.
  • Test the deployed model.

Container Instances is a great solution for testing and understanding the workflow. For scalable production deployments, consider using Azure Kubernetes Service. For more information, see how to deploy and where.


Code in this article was tested with Azure Machine Learning SDK version 1.0.83.


To run the notebook, first complete the model training in Tutorial (part 1): Train an image classification model. Then open the img-classification-part2-deploy.ipynb notebook in your cloned tutorials/image-classification-mnist-data folder.

This tutorial is also available on GitHub if you wish to use it on your own local environment. Make sure you have installed matplotlib and scikit-learn in your environment.


The rest of this article contains the same content as you see in the notebook.

Switch to the Jupyter notebook now if you want to read along as you run the code. To run a single code cell in a notebook, click the code cell and hit Shift+Enter. Or, run the entire notebook by choosing Run all from the top toolbar.

Set up the environment

Start by setting up a testing environment.

Import packages

Import the Python packages needed for this tutorial.

%matplotlib inline
import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import azureml.core

# Display the core SDK version number
print("Azure ML SDK Version: ", azureml.core.VERSION)

Deploy as web service

Deploy the model as a web service hosted in ACI.

To build the correct environment for ACI, provide the following:

  • A scoring script to show how to use the model
  • A configuration file to build the ACI
  • The model you trained before

Create scoring script

Create the scoring script, called score.py, used by the web service call to show how to use the model.

You must include two required functions into the scoring script:

  • The init() function, which typically loads the model into a global object. This function is run only once when the Docker container is started.

  • The run(input_data) 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, but other formats are supported.

%%writefile score.py
import json
import numpy as np
import os
import pickle
import joblib

def init():
    global model
    # AZUREML_MODEL_DIR is an environment variable created during deployment.
    # It is the path to the model folder (./azureml-models/$MODEL_NAME/$VERSION)
    # For multiple models, it points to the folder containing all deployed models (./azureml-models)
    model_path = os.path.join(os.getenv('AZUREML_MODEL_DIR'), 'sklearn_mnist_model.pkl')
    model = joblib.load(model_path)

def run(raw_data):
    data = np.array(json.loads(raw_data)['data'])
    # make prediction
    y_hat = model.predict(data)
    # you can return any data type as long as it is JSON-serializable
    return y_hat.tolist()

Create configuration file

Create a deployment configuration file and specify the number of CPUs and gigabyte of RAM needed for your ACI container. While it depends on your model, the default of 1 core and 1 gigabyte of RAM is usually sufficient for many models. If you feel you need more later, you would have to recreate the image and redeploy the service.

from azureml.core.webservice import AciWebservice

aciconfig = AciWebservice.deploy_configuration(cpu_cores=1, 
                                               tags={"data": "MNIST",  "method" : "sklearn"}, 
                                               description='Predict MNIST with sklearn')

Deploy in ACI

Estimated time to complete: about 2-5 minutes

Configure the image and deploy. The following code goes through these steps:

  1. Create environment object containing dependencies needed by the model using the environment (tutorial-env) saved during training.
  2. Create inference configuration necessary to deploy the model as a web service using:
    • The scoring file (score.py)
    • environment object created in previous step
  3. Deploy the model to the ACI container.
  4. Get the web service HTTP endpoint.
import uuid
from azureml.core.webservice import Webservice
from azureml.core.model import InferenceConfig
from azureml.core.environment import Environment
from azureml.core import Workspace
from azureml.core.model import Model

ws = Workspace.from_config()
model = Model(ws, 'sklearn_mnist')

myenv = Environment.get(workspace=ws, name="tutorial-env", version="1")
inference_config = InferenceConfig(entry_script="score.py", environment=myenv)

service_name = 'sklearn-mnist-svc-' + str(uuid.uuid4())[:4]
service = Model.deploy(workspace=ws, 


Get the scoring web service's HTTP endpoint, which accepts REST client calls. This endpoint can be shared with anyone who wants to test the web service or integrate it into an application.


Test the model

Download test data

Download the test data to the ./data/ directory

import os
from azureml.core import Dataset
from azureml.opendatasets import MNIST

data_folder = os.path.join(os.getcwd(), 'data')
os.makedirs(data_folder, exist_ok=True)

mnist_file_dataset = MNIST.get_file_dataset()
mnist_file_dataset.download(data_folder, overwrite=True)

Load test data

Load the test data from the ./data/ directory created during the training tutorial.

from utils import load_data
import os
import glob

data_folder = os.path.join(os.getcwd(), 'data')
# note we also shrink the intensity values (X) from 0-255 to 0-1. This helps the neural network converge faster
X_test = load_data(glob.glob(os.path.join(data_folder,"**/t10k-images-idx3-ubyte.gz"), recursive=True)[0], False) / 255.0
y_test = load_data(glob.glob(os.path.join(data_folder,"**/t10k-labels-idx1-ubyte.gz"), recursive=True)[0], True).reshape(-1)

Predict test data

Feed the test dataset to the model to get predictions.

The following code goes through these steps:

  1. Send the data as a JSON array to the web service hosted in ACI.

  2. Use the SDK's run API to invoke the service. You can also make raw calls using any HTTP tool such as curl.

import json
test = json.dumps({"data": X_test.tolist()})
test = bytes(test, encoding='utf8')
y_hat = service.run(input_data=test)

Examine the confusion matrix

Generate a confusion matrix to see how many samples from the test set are classified correctly. Notice the mis-classified value for the incorrect predictions.

from sklearn.metrics import confusion_matrix

conf_mx = confusion_matrix(y_test, y_hat)
print('Overall accuracy:', np.average(y_hat == y_test))

The output shows the confusion matrix:

[[ 960    0    1    2    1    5    6    3    1    1]
 [   0 1112    3    1    0    1    5    1   12    0]
 [   9    8  920   20   10    4   10   11   37    3]
 [   4    0   17  921    2   21    4   12   20    9]
 [   1    2    5    3  915    0   10    2    6   38]
 [  10    2    0   41   10  770   17    7   28    7]
 [   9    3    7    2    6   20  907    1    3    0]
 [   2    7   22    5    8    1    1  950    5   27]
 [  10   15    5   21   15   27    7   11  851   12]
 [   7    8    2   13   32   13    0   24   12  898]]
Overall accuracy: 0.9204

Use matplotlib to display the confusion matrix as a graph. In this graph, the X axis represents the actual values, and the Y axis represents the predicted values. The color in each grid represents the error rate. The lighter the color, the higher the error rate is. For example, many 5's are mis-classified as 3's. So you see a bright grid at (5,3).

# normalize the diagonal cells so that they don't overpower the rest of the cells when visualized
row_sums = conf_mx.sum(axis=1, keepdims=True)
norm_conf_mx = conf_mx / row_sums
np.fill_diagonal(norm_conf_mx, 0)

fig = plt.figure(figsize=(8,5))
ax = fig.add_subplot(111)
cax = ax.matshow(norm_conf_mx, cmap=plt.cm.bone)
ticks = np.arange(0, 10, 1)
plt.ylabel('true labels', fontsize=14)
plt.xlabel('predicted values', fontsize=14)

Chart showing confusion matrix

Show predictions

Test the deployed model with a random sample of 30 images from the test data.

  1. Print the returned predictions and plot them along with the input images. Red font and inverse image (white on black) is used to highlight the misclassified samples.

Since the model accuracy is high, you might have to run the following code a few times before you can see a misclassified sample.

import json

# find 30 random samples from test set
n = 30
sample_indices = np.random.permutation(X_test.shape[0])[0:n]

test_samples = json.dumps({"data": X_test[sample_indices].tolist()})
test_samples = bytes(test_samples, encoding='utf8')

# predict using the deployed model
result = service.run(input_data=test_samples)

# compare actual value vs. the predicted values:
i = 0
plt.figure(figsize = (20, 1))

for s in sample_indices:
    plt.subplot(1, n, i + 1)
    # use different color for misclassified sample
    font_color = 'red' if y_test[s] != result[i] else 'black'
    clr_map = plt.cm.gray if y_test[s] != result[i] else plt.cm.Greys
    plt.text(x=10, y =-10, s=result[i], fontsize=18, color=font_color)
    plt.imshow(X_test[s].reshape(28, 28), cmap=clr_map)
    i = i + 1

You can also send raw HTTP request to test the web service.

import requests

# send a random row from the test set to score
random_index = np.random.randint(0, len(X_test)-1)
input_data = "{\"data\": [" + str(list(X_test[random_index])) + "]}"

headers = {'Content-Type':'application/json'}

# for AKS deployment you'd need to the service key in the header as well
# api_key = service.get_key()
# headers = {'Content-Type':'application/json',  'Authorization':('Bearer '+ api_key)} 

resp = requests.post(service.scoring_uri, input_data, headers=headers)

print("POST to url", service.scoring_uri)
#print("input data:", input_data)
print("label:", y_test[random_index])
print("prediction:", resp.text)

Clean up resources

To keep the resource group and workspace for other tutorials and exploration, you can delete only the ACI deployment using this API call:



The resources that you created can be used as prerequisites to other Azure Machine Learning tutorials and how-to articles.

If you don't plan to use any of the resources that you created, delete them so you don't incur any charges:

  1. In the Azure portal, select Resource groups on the far left.

  2. From the list, select the resource group that you created.

  3. Select Delete resource group.

    Screenshot of the selections to delete a resource group in the Azure portal.

  4. Enter the resource group name. Then select Delete.

Next steps