Migrating from Batch AI to Azure Machine Learning service

The Azure Batch AI service is retiring in March. The at-scale training and scoring capabilities of Batch AI are now available in Azure Machine Learning service, which became generally available on December 4, 2018.

Along with many other machine learning capabilities, the Azure Machine Learning service includes a cloud-based managed compute target for training, deploying, and scoring machine learning models. This compute target is called Azure Machine Learning Compute. Start migrating and using it today. You can interact with the Azure Machine Learning service through its Python SDKs, command-line interface, and the Azure portal.

Upgrading from the Preview Batch AI to the GA'ed Azure Machine Learning service gives you a better experience through concepts that are easier to use such as Estimators and Datastores. It also guarantees GA level Azure service SLAs and customer support.

Azure Machine Learning service also brings in new functionality such as automated machine learning, hyperparameter tuning, and ML pipelines, which are useful in most large-scale AI workloads. The ability to deploy a trained model without switching to a separate service helps complete the data science loop from data preparation (using the Data Prep SDK) all the way to operationalization and model monitoring.

Start migrating

To avoid disruptions to your applications and to benefit from the latest features, take the following steps before March 31, 2019:

  1. Create an Azure Machine Learning service workspace and get started:

  2. Install the Azure Machine Learning SDK and Data Prep SDK.

  3. Set up an Azure Machine Learning Compute for model training.

  4. Update your scripts to use the Azure Machine Learning Compute. The following sections show you how common code you use for Batch AI maps to code for Azure Machine Learning.

Create workspaces

The concept of initializing a workspace using a configuration.json in Azure Batch AI maps similarly to using a config file in Azure Machine Learning service.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

import utilities as utils

cfg = utils.config.Configuration('../../configuration.json')
client = utils.config.create_batchai_client(cfg)

_ = client.workspaces.create(cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, cfg.location).result()

Azure Machine Learning service, try:

from azureml.core.workspace import Workspace

ws = Workspace.from_config()
print('Workspace name: ' + ws.name, 
      'Azure region: ' + ws.location, 
      'Subscription id: ' + ws.subscription_id, 
      'Resource group: ' + ws.resource_group, sep = '\n')

In addition, you can also create a Workspace directly by specifying the configuration parameters like

from azureml.core import Workspace
# Create the workspace using the specified parameters
ws = Workspace.create(name = workspace_name,
                      subscription_id = subscription_id,
                      resource_group = resource_group, 
                      location = workspace_region,
                      create_resource_group = True,
                      exist_ok = True)

# write the details of the workspace to a configuration file to the notebook library

Learn more about the Azure Machine Learning Workspace class in the SDK reference documentation.

Create compute clusters

Azure Machine Learning supports multiple compute targets, some of which are managed by the service and others that can be attached to your workspace (eg. An HDInsight cluster or a remote VM. Read more about various compute targets. The concept of creating an Azure Batch AI compute cluster maps to creating an AmlCompute cluster in Azure Machine Learning service. The Amlcompute creation takes in a compute configuration similar to how you pass parameters in Azure Batch AI. One thing to note is that autoscaling is on by default on your AmlCompute cluster whereas it is turned off by default in Azure Batch AI.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

nodes_count = 2
cluster_name = 'nc6'

parameters = models.ClusterCreateParameters(
        admin_user_password=cfg.admin_password or None,
        admin_user_ssh_public_key=cfg.admin_ssh_key or None,
_ = client.clusters.create(cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, cluster_name, parameters).result()

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:

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

# Choose a name for your CPU cluster
gpu_cluster_name = "nc6"

# Verify that cluster does not exist already
    gpu_cluster = ComputeTarget(workspace=ws, name=gpu_cluster_name)
    print('Found existing cluster, use it.')
except ComputeTargetException:
    compute_config = AmlCompute.provisioning_configuration(vm_size='STANDARD_NC6',
    gpu_cluster = ComputeTarget.create(ws, gpu_cluster_name, compute_config)


Learn more about the AMLCompute class in the SDK reference documentation. Note that in the configuration above, only vm_size and max_nodes are mandatory, and the rest of the properties like VNets are for advanced cluster setup only.

Monitor status of your cluster

This is more straightforward in Azure Machine Learning service as you will see below.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

cluster = client.clusters.get(cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, cluster_name)

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:


Get reference to a Storage account

The concept of a data storage like blob, gets simplified in Azure Machine Learning service using the DataStore object. By default your Azure Machine Learning service workspace creates a storage account, but you can attach your own storage also as part of workspace creation.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

azure_blob_container_name = 'batchaisample'
blob_service = BlockBlobService(cfg.storage_account_name, cfg.storage_account_key)
blob_service.create_container(azure_blob_container_name, fail_on_exist=False)

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:

ds = ws.get_default_datastore()
print(ds.datastore_type, ds.account_name, ds.container_name)

Learn more about registering additional storage accounts, or getting a reference to another registered datastore in the Azure Machine Learning service documentation.

Download and upload data

With either service, you can upload the data into the storage account easily using the datastore reference from above. For Azure Batch AI, we also deploy the training script as part of the fileshare, although you will see how you can specify it as part of your job configuration in the case of Azure Machine Learning service.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

mnist_dataset_directory = 'mnist_dataset'
    blob_service, azure_blob_container_name, mnist_dataset_directory)

script_directory = 'tensorflow_samples'
script_to_deploy = 'mnist_replica.py'

                                   script_directory + '/' + script_to_deploy, 

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:

import os
import urllib
os.makedirs('./data', exist_ok=True)
download_url = 'https://s3.amazonaws.com/img-datasets/mnist.npz'
urllib.request.urlretrieve(download_url, filename='data/mnist.npz')

ds.upload(src_dir='data', target_path='mnist_dataset', overwrite=True, show_progress=True)

path_on_datastore = ' mnist_dataset/mnist.npz' ds_data = ds.path(path_on_datastore) print(ds_data)

Create experiments

As mentioned above Azure Machine Learning service has a concept of an experiment similar to Azure Batch AI. Each experiment can then have individual runs, similar to how we have jobs in Azure Batch AI. Azure Machine Learning service also allows you to have hierarchy under each parent run, for individual child runs.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

experiment_name = 'tensorflow_experiment'
experiment = client.experiments.create(cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, experiment_name).result()

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:

from azureml.core import Experiment

experiment_name = 'tensorflow_experiment'
experiment = Experiment(ws, name=experiment_name)

Submit jobs

Once you create an experiment, you have a few different ways of submitting a run. In this example, we are trying to create a deep learning model using TensorFlow and will use an Azure Machine Learning service Estimator to do that. An Estimator is simply a wrapper function on the underlying run configuration, which makes it easier to submit runs, and is currently supported for Pytorch and TensorFlow only. Through the concept of datastores, you will also see how easy it becomes to specify the mount paths

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

azure_file_share = 'afs'
azure_blob = 'bfs'
args_fmt = '--job_name={0} --num_gpus=1 --train_steps 10000 --checkpoint_dir=$AZ_BATCHAI_OUTPUT_MODEL --log_dir=$AZ_BATCHAI_OUTPUT_TENSORBOARD --data_dir=$AZ_BATCHAI_INPUT_DATASET --ps_hosts=$AZ_BATCHAI_PS_HOSTS --worker_hosts=$AZ_BATCHAI_WORKER_HOSTS --task_index=$AZ_BATCHAI_TASK_INDEX'

parameters = models.JobCreateParameters(
            path='$AZ_BATCHAI_JOB_MOUNT_ROOT/{0}/{1}'.format(azure_blob, script_directory)),
            path='$AZ_BATCHAI_JOB_MOUNT_ROOT/{0}/{1}'.format(azure_blob, mnist_dataset_directory))],
                        cfg.storage_account_name, azure_file_share_name),
         python_script_file_path='$AZ_BATCHAI_INPUT_SCRIPT/'+ script_to_deploy,

Submitting the job itself in Azure Batch AI is through the create function.

job_name = datetime.utcnow().strftime('tf_%m_%d_%Y_%H%M%S')
job = client.jobs.create(cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, experiment_name, job_name, parameters).result()
print('Created Job {0} in Experiment {1}'.format(job.name, experiment.name))

The full information for this training code snippet (including the mnist_replica.py file that we had uploaded to the file share above) can be found in the Azure Batch AI sample notebook github repo.

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:

from azureml.train.dnn import TensorFlow

    '--num_gpus': 1,
    '--train_steps': 500,
    '--input_data': ds_data.as_mount()


estimator = TensorFlow(source_directory=project_folder,

The full information for this training code snippet (including the tf_mnist_replica.py file) can be found in the Azure Machine Learning service sample notebook github repo. The datastore itself can either be mounted on the individual nodes, or the training data can be downloaded on the node itself. More details on referencing the datastore in your estimator is in the Azure Machine Learning service documentation.

Submitting a run in Azure Machine Learning service is through the submit function.

run = experiment.submit(estimator)

There is another way of specifying parameters for your run, using a run config – especially useful for defining a custom training environment. You can find more details in this sample AmlCompute notebook.

Monitor runs

Once you submit a run, you can either wait for it to complete or monitor it in Azure Machine Learning service using neat Jupyter widgets that you can invoke directly from your code. You can also pull context of any previous run by looping through the various experiments in a workspace, and the individual runs within each experiment.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

utils.job.wait_for_job_completion(client, cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, 
                                  experiment_name, job_name, cluster_name, 'stdouterr', 'stdout-wk-0.txt')

files = client.jobs.list_output_files(cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, experiment_name, job_name,
for f in list(files):
    print(f.name, f.download_url or 'directory')

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:


from azureml.widgets import RunDetails

Here is a snapshot of how the widget would load in your notebook for looking at your logs real time: Widget monitoring diagram

Edit clusters

Deleting a cluster is straightforward. In addition, Azure Machine Learning service also allows you to update a cluster from within the notebook in case you want to scale it to a higher number of nodes or increase the idle wait time before scaling down the cluster. We don’t allow you to change the VM size of the cluster itself, since it requires a new deployment effectively in the backend.

For Batch AI, you did it this way:

_ = client.clusters.delete(cfg.resource_group, cfg.workspace, cluster_name)

For Azure Machine Learning service, try:


gpu_cluster.update(min_nodes=2, max_nodes=4, idle_seconds_before_scaledown=600)

Get support

Batch AI is slated to retire on March 31 and is already blocking new subscriptions from registering against the service unless it is allowlisted by raising an exception through support. Reach out to us at Azure Batch AI Training Preview with any questions or if you have feedback as you migrate to Azure Machine Learning service.

Azure Machine Learning service is a generally available service. This means that it comes with a committed SLA and various support plans to choose from.

Pricing for using Azure infrastructure either through the Azure Batch AI service or through the Azure Machine Learning service should not vary, as we only charge the price for the underlying compute in both cases. For more information, see the pricing calculator.

View the regional availability between the two services on the Azure portal.

Next steps