Train TensorFlow models at scale with Azure Machine Learning SDK (v1)

APPLIES TO: Python SDK azureml v1

In this article, learn how to run your TensorFlow training scripts at scale using Azure Machine Learning.

This example trains and registers a TensorFlow model to classify handwritten digits using a deep neural network (DNN).

Whether you're developing a TensorFlow model from the ground-up or you're bringing an existing model into the cloud, you can use Azure Machine Learning to scale out open-source training jobs to build, deploy, version, and monitor production-grade models.


Run this code on either of these environments:

Before you can run the code in this article to create a GPU cluster, you'll need to request a quota increase for your workspace.

Set up the experiment

This section sets up the training experiment by loading the required Python packages, initializing a workspace, creating the compute target, and defining the training environment.

Import packages

First, import the necessary Python libraries.

import os
import urllib
import shutil
import azureml

from azureml.core import Experiment
from azureml.core import Workspace, Run
from azureml.core import Environment

from azureml.core.compute import ComputeTarget, AmlCompute
from azureml.core.compute_target import ComputeTargetException

Initialize a workspace

The Azure Machine Learning workspace is the top-level resource for the service. It provides you with a centralized place to work with all the artifacts you create. In the Python SDK, you can access the workspace artifacts by creating a workspace object.

Create a workspace object from the config.json file created in the prerequisites section.

ws = Workspace.from_config()

Create a file dataset

A FileDataset object references one or multiple files in your workspace datastore or public urls. The files can be of any format, and the class provides you with the ability to download or mount the files to your compute. By creating a FileDataset, you create a reference to the data source location. If you applied any transformations to the data set, they'll be stored in the data set as well. The data remains in its existing location, so no extra storage cost is incurred. For more information the Dataset package, see the How to create register datasets article.

from azureml.core.dataset import Dataset

web_paths = [
dataset = Dataset.File.from_files(path = web_paths)

Use the register() method to register the data set to your workspace so they can be shared with others, reused across various experiments, and referred to by name in your training script.

dataset = dataset.register(workspace=ws,
                           description='training and test dataset',

# list the files referenced by dataset

Create a compute target

Create a compute target for your TensorFlow job to run on. In this example, create a GPU-enabled Azure Machine Learning compute cluster.


Before you can create a GPU cluster, you'll need to request a quota increase for your workspace.

cluster_name = "gpu-cluster"

    compute_target = ComputeTarget(workspace=ws, name=cluster_name)
    print('Found existing compute target')
except ComputeTargetException:
    print('Creating a new compute target...')
    compute_config = AmlCompute.provisioning_configuration(vm_size='STANDARD_NC6', 

    compute_target = ComputeTarget.create(ws, cluster_name, compute_config)

    compute_target.wait_for_completion(show_output=True, min_node_count=None, timeout_in_minutes=20)


You may choose to use low-priority VMs to run some or all of your workloads. See how to create a low-priority VM.

For more information on compute targets, see the what is a compute target article.

Define your environment

To define the Azure ML Environment that encapsulates your training script's dependencies, you can either define a custom environment or use an Azure ML curated environment.

Use a curated environment

Azure ML provides prebuilt, curated environments if you don't want to define your own environment. Azure ML has several CPU and GPU curated environments for TensorFlow corresponding to different versions of TensorFlow. You can use the latest version of this environment using the @latest directive. For more info, see Azure ML Curated Environments.

If you want to use a curated environment, the code will be similar to the following example:

curated_env_name = 'AzureML-tensorflow-2.7-ubuntu20.04-py38-cuda11-gpu'
tf_env = Environment.get(workspace=ws, name=curated_env_name)

To see the packages included in the curated environment, you can write out the conda dependencies to disk:


Make sure the curated environment includes all the dependencies required by your training script. If not, you'll have to modify the environment to include the missing dependencies. If the environment is modified, you'll have to give it a new name, as the 'AzureML' prefix is reserved for curated environments. If you modified the conda dependencies YAML file, you can create a new environment from it with a new name, for example:

tf_env = Environment.from_conda_specification(name='AzureML-tensorflow-2.7-ubuntu20.04-py38-cuda11-gpu', file_path='./conda_dependencies.yml')

If you had instead modified the curated environment object directly, you can clone that environment with a new name:

tf_env = tf_env.clone(new_name='my-AzureML-tensorflow-2.7-ubuntu20.04-py38-cuda11-gpu')

Create a custom environment

You can also create your own Azure ML environment that encapsulates your training script's dependencies.

First, define your conda dependencies in a YAML file; in this example the file is named conda_dependencies.yml.

- conda-forge
- python=3.7
- pip:
  - azureml-defaults
  - tensorflow-gpu==2.2.0

Create an Azure ML environment from this conda environment specification. The environment will be packaged into a Docker container at runtime.

By default if no base image is specified, Azure ML will use a CPU image azureml.core.environment.DEFAULT_CPU_IMAGE as the base image. Since this example runs training on a GPU cluster, you'll need to specify a GPU base image that has the necessary GPU drivers and dependencies. Azure ML maintains a set of base images published on Microsoft Container Registry (MCR) that you can use, see the Azure/AzureML-Containers GitHub repo for more information.

tf_env = Environment.from_conda_specification(name='AzureML-tensorflow-2.7-ubuntu20.04-py38-cuda11-gpu', file_path='./conda_dependencies.yml')

# Specify a GPU base image
tf_env.docker.enabled = True
tf_env.docker.base_image = ''


Optionally, you can just capture all your dependencies directly in a custom Docker image or Dockerfile, and create your environment from that. For more information, see Train with custom image.

For more information on creating and using environments, see Create and use software environments in Azure Machine Learning.

Configure and submit your training run

Create a ScriptRunConfig

Create a ScriptRunConfig object to specify the configuration details of your training job, including your training script, environment to use, and the compute target to run on. Any arguments to your training script will be passed via command line if specified in the arguments parameter.

from azureml.core import ScriptRunConfig

args = ['--data-folder', dataset.as_mount(),
        '--batch-size', 64,
        '--first-layer-neurons', 256,
        '--second-layer-neurons', 128,
        '--learning-rate', 0.01]

src = ScriptRunConfig(source_directory=script_folder,


Azure Machine Learning runs training scripts by copying the entire source directory. If you have sensitive data that you don't want to upload, use a .ignore file or don't include it in the source directory . Instead, access your data using an Azure ML dataset.

For more information on configuring jobs with ScriptRunConfig, see Configure and submit training runs.


If you were previously using the TensorFlow estimator to configure your TensorFlow training jobs, please note that Estimators have been deprecated as of the 1.19.0 SDK release. With Azure ML SDK >= 1.15.0, ScriptRunConfig is the recommended way to configure training jobs, including those using deep learning frameworks. For common migration questions, see the Estimator to ScriptRunConfig migration guide.

Submit a run

The Run object provides the interface to the run history while the job is running and after it has completed.

run = Experiment(workspace=ws, name='Tutorial-TF-Mnist').submit(src)

What happens during run execution

As the run is executed, it goes through the following stages:

  • Preparing: A docker image is created according to the environment defined. The image is uploaded to the workspace's container registry and cached for later runs. Logs are also streamed to the run history and can be viewed to monitor progress. If a curated environment is specified instead, the cached image backing that curated environment will be used.

  • Scaling: The cluster attempts to scale up if the Batch AI cluster requires more nodes to execute the run than are currently available.

  • Running: All scripts in the script folder are uploaded to the compute target, data stores are mounted or copied, and the script is executed. Outputs from stdout and the ./logs folder are streamed to the run history and can be used to monitor the run.

  • Post-Processing: The ./outputs folder of the run is copied over to the run history.

Register or download a model

Once you've trained the model, you can register it to your workspace. Model registration lets you store and version your models in your workspace to simplify model management and deployment.

Optional: by specifying the parameters model_framework, model_framework_version, and resource_configuration, no-code model deployment becomes available. This allows you to directly deploy your model as a web service from the registered model, and the ResourceConfiguration object defines the compute resource for the web service.

from azureml.core import Model
from azureml.core.resource_configuration import ResourceConfiguration

model = run.register_model(model_name='tf-mnist', 
                           resource_configuration=ResourceConfiguration(cpu=1, memory_in_gb=0.5))

You can also download a local copy of the model by using the Run object. In the training script, a TensorFlow saver object persists the model to a local folder (local to the compute target). You can use the Run object to download a copy.

# Create a model folder in the current directory
os.makedirs('./model', exist_ok=True)
run.download_files(prefix='outputs/model', output_directory='./model', append_prefix=False)

Distributed training

Azure Machine Learning also supports multi-node distributed TensorFlow jobs so that you can scale your training workloads. You can easily run distributed TensorFlow jobs and Azure ML will manage the orchestration for you.

Azure ML supports running distributed TensorFlow jobs with both Horovod and TensorFlow's built-in distributed training API.

For more information about distributed training, see the Distributed GPU training guide.

Deploy a TensorFlow model

The deployment how-to contains a section on registering models, but you can skip directly to creating a compute target for deployment, since you already have a registered model.

(Preview) No-code model deployment

Instead of the traditional deployment route, you can also use the no-code deployment feature (preview) for TensorFlow. By registering your model as shown above with the model_framework, model_framework_version, and resource_configuration parameters, you can use the deploy() static function to deploy your model.

service = Model.deploy(ws, "tensorflow-web-service", [model])

The full how-to covers deployment in Azure Machine Learning in greater depth.

Next steps

In this article, you trained and registered a TensorFlow model, and learned about options for deployment. See these other articles to learn more about Azure Machine Learning.