Image processing with batch deployments

APPLIES TO: Azure CLI ml extension v2 (current) Python SDK azure-ai-ml v2 (current)

Batch Endpoints can be used for processing tabular data, but also any other file type like images. Those deployments are supported in both MLflow and custom models. In this tutorial, we will learn how to deploy a model that classifies images according to the ImageNet taxonomy.

About this sample

The model we are going to work with was built using TensorFlow along with the RestNet architecture (Identity Mappings in Deep Residual Networks). A sample of this model can be downloaded from The model has the following constrains that are important to keep in mind for deployment:

  • It works with images of size 244x244 (tensors of (224, 224, 3)).
  • It requires inputs to be scaled to the range [0,1].

The information in this article is based on code samples contained in the azureml-examples repository. To run the commands locally without having to copy/paste YAML and other files, clone the repo, and then change directories to the cli/endpoints/batch if you are using the Azure CLI or sdk/endpoints/batch if you are using our SDK for Python.

git clone --depth 1
cd azureml-examples/cli/endpoints/batch

Follow along in Jupyter Notebooks

You can follow along this sample in a Jupyter Notebook. In the cloned repository, open the notebook: imagenet-classifier-batch.ipynb.


Before following the steps in this article, make sure you have the following prerequisites:

  • You must have a batch endpoint already created. This example assumes the endpoint is named imagenet-classifier-batch. If you don't have one, follow the instructions at Use batch endpoints for batch scoring.
  • You must have a compute created where to deploy the deployment. This example assumes the name of the compute is cpu-cluster. If you don't, follow the instructions at Create compute.

Image classification with batch deployments

In this example, we are going to learn how to deploy a deep learning model that can classify a given image according to the taxonomy of ImageNet.

Registering the model

Batch Endpoint can only deploy registered models so we need to register it. You can skip this step if the model you are trying to deploy is already registered.

  1. Downloading a copy of the model:

    mkdir -p imagenet-classifier
    unzip -d imagenet-classifier
  2. Register the model:

    az ml model create --name $MODEL_NAME --type "custom_model" --path "imagenet-classifier/model"

Creating a scoring script

We need to create a scoring script that can read the images provided by the batch deployment and return the scores of the model. The following script:

  • Indicates an init function that load the model using keras module in tensorflow.
  • Indicates a run function that is executed for each mini-batch the batch deployment provides.
  • The run function read one image of the file at a time
  • The run method resizes the images to the expected sizes for the model.
  • The run method rescales the images to the range [0,1] domain, which is what the model expects.
  • It returns the classes and the probabilities associated with the predictions.

import os
import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import tensorflow as tf
from os.path import basename
from PIL import Image
from tensorflow.keras.models import load_model

def init():
    global model
    global input_width
    global input_height

    # AZUREML_MODEL_DIR is an environment variable created during deployment
    model_path = os.path.join(os.environ["AZUREML_MODEL_DIR"], "model")

    # load the model
    model = load_model(model_path)
    input_width = 244
    input_height = 244

def run(mini_batch):
    results = []

    for image in mini_batch:
        data =, input_height)) # Read and resize the image
        data = np.array(data)/255.0 # Normalize
        data_batch = tf.expand_dims(data, axis=0) # create a batch of size (1, 244, 244, 3)

        # perform inference
        pred = model.predict(data_batch)

        # Compute probabilities, classes and labels
        pred_prob = tf.math.reduce_max(tf.math.softmax(pred, axis=-1)).numpy()
        pred_class = tf.math.argmax(pred, axis=-1).numpy()

        results.append([basename(image), pred_class[0], pred_prob])

    return pd.DataFrame(results)


Although images are provided in mini-batches by the deployment, this scoring script processes one image at a time. This is a common pattern as trying to load the entire batch and send it to the model at once may result in high-memory pressure on the batch executor (OOM exeptions). However, there are certain cases where doing so enables high throughput in the scoring task. This is the case for instance of batch deployments over a GPU hardware where we want to achieve high GPU utilization. See High throughput deployments for an example of a scoring script that takes advantage of it.


If you are trying to deploy a generative model (one that generates files), please read how to author a scoring script as explained at Deployment of models that produces multiple files.

Creating the deployment

One the scoring script is created, it's time to create a batch deployment for it. Follow the following steps to create it:

  1. We need to indicate over which environment we are going to run the deployment. In our case, our model runs on TensorFlow. Azure Machine Learning already has an environment with the required software installed, so we can reutilize this environment. We are just going to add a couple of dependencies in a conda.yml file.

    No extra step is required for the Azure ML CLI. The environment definition will be included in the deployment file.

  2. Now, let create the deployment.


    This example assumes you have an endpoint created with the name imagenet-classifier-batch and a compute cluster with name cpu-cluster. If you don't, please follow the steps in the doc Use batch endpoints for batch scoring.

    To create a new deployment under the created endpoint, create a YAML configuration like the following:

    endpoint_name: imagenet-classifier-batch
    name: imagenet-classifier-resnetv2
    description: A ResNetV2 model architecture for performing ImageNet classification in batch
    model: azureml:imagenet-classifier@latest
    compute: azureml:cpu-cluster
       conda_file: ./imagenet-classifier/environment/conda.yml
      code: ./imagenet-classifier/code/
      instance_count: 2
    max_concurrency_per_instance: 1
    mini_batch_size: 5
    output_action: append_row
    output_file_name: predictions.csv
      max_retries: 3
      timeout: 300
    error_threshold: -1
    logging_level: info

    Then, create the deployment with the following command:

    az ml batch-deployment create -f deployment.yml
  3. Although you can invoke a specific deployment inside of an endpoint, you will usually want to invoke the endpoint itself, and let the endpoint decide which deployment to use. Such deployment is named the "default" deployment. This gives you the possibility of changing the default deployment - and hence changing the model serving the deployment - without changing the contract with the user invoking the endpoint. Use the following instruction to update the default deployment:

    az ml batch-endpoint update --name $ENDPOINT_NAME --set defaults.deployment_name=$DEPLOYMENT_NAME
  4. At this point, our batch endpoint is ready to be used.

Testing out the deployment

For testing our endpoint, we are going to use a sample of 1000 images from the original ImageNet dataset. Batch endpoints can only process data that is located in the cloud and that is accessible from the Azure Machine Learning workspace. In this example, we are going to upload it to an Azure Machine Learning data store. Particularly, we are going to create a data asset that can be used to invoke the endpoint for scoring. However, notice that batch endpoints accept data that can be placed in multiple type of locations.

  1. Let's download the associated sample data:

    unzip -d /tmp/imagenet-1000
  2. Now, let's create the data asset from the data just downloaded

    Create a data asset definition in YAML:


    name: imagenet-sample-unlabeled
    description: A sample of 1000 images from the original ImageNet dataset.
    type: uri_folder
    path: /tmp/imagenet-1000

    Then, create the data asset:

    az ml data create -f imagenet-sample-unlabeled.yml
  3. Now that the data is uploaded and ready to be used, let's invoke the endpoint:

    JOB_NAME = $(az ml batch-endpoint invoke --name $ENDPOINT_NAME --input azureml:imagenet-sample-unlabeled@latest | jq -r '.name')


    The utility jq may not be installed on every installation. You can get instructions in this link.


    Notice how we are not indicating the deployment name in the invoke operation. That's because the endpoint automatically routes the job to the default deployment. Since our endpoint only has one deployment, then that one is the default one. You can target an specific deployment by indicating the argument/parameter deployment_name.

  4. A batch job is started as soon as the command returns. You can monitor the status of the job until it finishes:

    az ml job show --name $JOB_NAME
  5. Once the deployment is finished, we can download the predictions:

    To download the predictions, use the following command:

    az ml job download --name $JOB_NAME --output-name score --download-path ./
  6. The output predictions will look like the following. Notice that the predictions have been combined with the labels for the convenience of the reader. To know more about how to achieve this see the associated notebook.

    import pandas as pd
    score = pd.read_csv("named-outputs/score/predictions.csv", header=None,  names=['file', 'class', 'probabilities'], sep=' ')
    score['label'] = score['class'].apply(lambda pred: imagenet_labels[pred])
    file class probabilities label
    n02088094_Afghan_hound.JPEG 161 0.994745 Afghan hound
    n02088238_basset 162 0.999397 basset
    n02088364_beagle.JPEG 165 0.366914 bluetick
    n02088466_bloodhound.JPEG 164 0.926464 bloodhound
    ... ... ... ...

High throughput deployments

As mentioned before, the deployment we just created processes one image a time, even when the batch deployment is providing a batch of them. In most cases this is the best approach as it simplifies how the models execute and avoids any possible out-of-memory problems. However, in certain others we may want to saturate as much as possible the utilization of the underlying hardware. This is the case GPUs for instance.

On those cases, we may want to perform inference on the entire batch of data. That implies loading the entire set of images to memory and sending them directly to the model. The following example uses TensorFlow to read batch of images and score them all at once. It also uses TensorFlow ops to do any data preprocessing so the entire pipeline will happen on the same device being used (CPU/GPU).


Some models have a non-linear relationship with the size of the inputs in terms of the memory consumption. Batch again (as done in this example) or decrease the size of the batches created by the batch deployment to avoid out-of-memory exceptions.

import os
import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import tensorflow as tf
from tensorflow.keras.models import load_model

def init():
    global model
    global input_width
    global input_height

    # AZUREML_MODEL_DIR is an environment variable created during deployment
    model_path = os.path.join(os.environ["AZUREML_MODEL_DIR"], "model")

    # load the model
    model = load_model(model_path)
    input_width = 244
    input_height = 244

def decode_img(file_path):
    file =
    img =, channels=3)
    img = tf.image.resize(img, [input_width, input_height])
    return img/255.

def run(mini_batch):
    images_ds =
    images_ds =

    # perform inference
    pred = model.predict(images_ds)

    # Compute probabilities, classes and labels
    pred_prob = tf.math.reduce_max(tf.math.softmax(pred, axis=-1)).numpy()
    pred_class = tf.math.argmax(pred, axis=-1).numpy()

    return pd.DataFrame([mini_batch, pred_prob, pred_class], columns=['file', 'probability', 'class'])


  • Notice that this script is constructing a tensor dataset from the mini-batch sent by the batch deployment. This dataset is preprocessed to obtain the expected tensors for the model using the map operation with the function decode_img.
  • The dataset is batched again (16) send the data to the model. Use this parameter to control how much information you can load into memory and send to the model at once. If running on a GPU, you will need to carefully tune this parameter to achieve the maximum utilization of the GPU just before getting an OOM exception.
  • Once predictions are computed, the tensors are converted to numpy.ndarray.

Considerations for MLflow models processing images

MLflow models in Batch Endpoints support reading images as input data. Remember that MLflow models don't require a scoring script. Have the following considerations when using them:

  • Image files supported includes: .png, .jpg, .jpeg, .tiff, .bmp and .gif.
  • MLflow models should expect to recieve a np.ndarray as input that will match the dimensions of the input image. In order to support multiple image sizes on each batch, the batch executor will invoke the MLflow model once per image file.
  • MLflow models are highly encouraged to include a signature, and if they do it must be of type TensorSpec. Inputs are reshaped to match tensor's shape if available. If no signature is available, tensors of type np.uint8 are inferred.
  • For models that include a signature and are expected to handle variable size of images, then include a signature that can guarantee it. For instance, the following signature will allow batches of 3 channeled images. Specify the signature when you register the model with mlflow.<flavor>.log_model(..., signature=signature).
import numpy as np
import mlflow
from mlflow.models.signature import ModelSignature
from mlflow.types.schema import Schema, TensorSpec

input_schema = Schema([
  TensorSpec(np.dtype(np.uint8), (-1, -1, -1, 3)),
signature = ModelSignature(inputs=input_schema)

For more information about how to use MLflow models in batch deployments read Using MLflow models in batch deployments.

Next steps