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The Rise of MLOps

Season 2, episode 4 of the DataTalks.Club podcast with Theofilos Papapanagiotou

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Alexey:: Today we will talk about MLOps. We have a special guest — Theofilos Papapanagiotou. Theo and I are colleagues. I work at OLX Group and Theo works at the parent company of OLX — Prosus. In our company, Theo is the main advocate of MLOps. He's usually the go-to person for everything related to machine learning in production, model deployments, tools for serving machine learning, Kubeflow, everything related to that. I wanted to invite somebody to talk about MLOps and it was very difficult for me to think of anyone else better suited for this chat than Theo. Thank you very much for coming to our event. Welcome. (2:34)

Theo:: Thanks, Alexey. It's my pleasure to be here. (3:18)

Theo’s background

Alexey:: Before we go into our main topic of MLOps, let's start with your background. Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far? (3:21)

Theo:: Sure. I'm an engineer with a background of working in telecom for the last 20 years. I studied computer science. Then I had a Master's in data communications, and finally a Master's in AI. In that journey of 20 years, I've been transitioning from a Unix engineer to Data Ops and to ML engineering for about the last seven years. (3:30)

Alexey:: You actually had two Master’s? (4:01)

Theo:: Yes. I haven't finished the last one yet, it's ongoing. (4:04)

Alexey:: You're still studying? (4:08)

Theo:: I did. I don't study anymore. I finished with the lectures a couple of years ago but there is still this thesis thing that I need to deliver. (4:10)

Alexey:: What do you do now? (4:29)

Theo:: Now, I'm working at Prosus and it's a company that invests in other companies. We are working together with some of them on some projects. This company invests mostly in segments like food delivery, payments, classifieds, as well as EdTech. We have a team called the Prosus AI team and we are helping the data science teams of these companies to level up their maturity in the space of machine learning operations. (4:33)

DevOps and MLOps

Alexey:: Companies like OLX, where you help us to do all these things related to MLOps. So, what is MLOps? (5:14)

Theo:: It's a buzzword these days. In the TWIML conference, everyone was talking about MLOps. All the vendors that have a platform to sell were talking about this. I remember that we had the same thing and the same feeling like 10 years ago, when people started talking about DevOps and what DevOps is. And there are a lot of things. It's about the culture, it's about how people are working together, and how they are collaborating to solve a problem. But it's also about processes and technology. (5:25)

Theo:: So, it's a set of best practices that helps people to deliver machine learning models in production, and not only deliver but also maintain effectively. The industry realized 10 years ago that not having some barriers between the development department and an operational department is not helping with fast iteration of delivering or releasing software quickly. When you want to have a product that is changing fast, in order to deliver new features to your customers or to fix bugs, you have to iterate fast – you have to release a lot of times. (5:25)

Theo:: You have to minimize the amount of time that you spend from the moment that you will write a line of code to the moment that it will reach production and start serving customers. This is DevOps. Over time, it's been described with different names. The skill set of people that have been working with it has been changing. Although, to me, it's still the same — a Unix Engineer or a system engineer that has been transitioning from different titles. (5:25)

Alexey:: “Cloud engineer” I think also comes up pretty often nowadays. (7:23)

Theo:: Absolutely. However, we should also mention that there are differences on the fundamentals — what is a software delivery workflow and what is a machine learning workflow? In the software space, you write code, you have some requirements, and you deliver a piece of artifact that you deploy somewhere. This is fundamentally different from the machine learning workflow. There, a data scientist has to do some exploratory analysis first on the data and then build the pipeline that will build a model based on some modeling activity. But the input of the modeling (or the training process, as we call it) is not just the code that the data scientist is writing, but the input is also the data. The artifact that has been produced in that case is the model and that model has a life cycle, which is not the same as the lifecycle of a typical artifact from the software engineering world. (7:28)

Theo:: In the software engineering world, you have an artifact in the form of a container or in the form of a binary file that you release or you deploy in a server and after the tests have been executed in your in your CI process, you have it always running, as long as there are no breaks in the connections in the other systems. However, in the space of the machine learning workflow, this is different. The model is not something that you will build and will work on forever. The model degrades over time because the data are changing over time. I have a nice example that I like to use in the company, which says that when a new iPhone is coming out every year, if you have a classifier that identifies the model of the iPhone, let's say – every year you will have to retrain the model that is doing this classification, because you have a new class in the data space. That's why for example, the model will degrade. (7:28)

Theo:: There are other examples of models that are being retrained for example, every day or every time you are performing an action to label some data set in your doorbell from Nest or in your car with your driving models that you might have. So, the fundamental difference is that the model is degrading over time and that's why the monitoring of this deployed artifact has to be able to trigger every training job, not just stay there forever. You will never have this in software engineering. (7:28)

Alexey:: So basically, the main difference between DevOps and MLOps is that the life cycle is different, because the input to machine learning service is data that changes over time, and it means that we need to look out and see if there are some changes, which is when we possibly need to trigger some things. This is not something that we cover in DevOps, right? (10:09)

Theo:: Absolutely. Of course, in DevOps, you deploy an application. This application is following some rules. It's rule-based software that is performing some action and based on the tests – in the unit and functional tests that you have written – you validate that the artifact is performing exactly the activity that you have described in your requirements. But yes, with a model, this is different. It's not as static as the software artifact. (10:35)

Alexey:: Are there other crucial differences between DevOps and MLOps in addition to these so-called data drifts? Is there something else? (11:06)

Theo:: Yes. There is another thing. If you remember, especially in the world of SREs, this statement that “monitoring is the foundation of the operation of SREs” that’s important. Monitoring in the space of MLOps is even more important, because you don't only need monitoring in order to have a service that is performing as you described it, you also need monitoring in order to trigger these actions that we have described – the retraining action. So, the monitoring is going to another level. (11:17)

Theo:: In the typical DevOps environment or in the typical software environment, you will have service-related metrics and business-related metrics, like how many requests per second you'll receive and latency. But in the space of machine learning, you might want to also monitor some extra things that you are also doing during training time, or even that you want to only have during inference time. For example, fairness or anomaly detection, or I don't know, adversarial attacks on your model. In order to have such extended monitoring unit components in your workflow that are not only retrieving all these logs and metrics that you are producing from your inference, but also performing the action to kick off the training pipeline. (11:17)

Tooling in ML Ops and DevOps

Alexey:: So are these monitoring tools that we're talking about different from traditional DevOps tools? For example, usually what we use is like Prometheus, Grafana, and things like that. Are they different in the MLOps world, or are they similar? Are these the same tools? (12:46)

Theo:: In a typical software component, you are generating metrics in your Prometheus – from your application itself – when a class has been instantiated, you might want to increase a counter, or when you are receiving a new request to export to a particular workflow of your application. In ML, you want separate components that are receiving the data that you're trying to infer, and also receiving maybe the payload of the response, and do comparisons with the rest of the data that you have. So, you need a large infrastructure to build and send such metrics in Prometheus. (13:04)

Theo:: Of course, the toolset is the same. Prometheus is the standard, let’s say, metric system now, like Graphite was 10 years ago. At the same time, Grafana is dominant in the space of visualization of dashboards for monitoring. But the component or the service that is going to generate these metrics is something new and it's something that should become something reusable that people can utilize – you can buy it – you want to have this commoditized, you want to buy from a vendor or from the supermarket, a component that's performing inference monitoring on the robustness of your model. (13:04)

Alexey:: And why do we want to commoditize that? I know that it's a difficult thing to deploy models. So, this is why we want to make it as simple as possible, right? (14:31)

Theo:: Yes, absolutely. If we want to be able to iterate fast, we don't want to spend time and development effort on figuring out what the special metrics are for each model that we need to have. We need to be able to automatically, if possible, identify these and plug them into the pipeline. (14:44)

ML engineering vs ML Ops

Alexey:: I often see that there is confusion between ML engineering and MLOps. Often these terms are now used as synonyms. So, I was wondering – do you think they are different? And if they are, what is the main difference between the two? (15:09)

Theo:: ML engineering is a relatively new topic and [Inaudible] MLOps. The same way that you would say that a software engineer and DevOps are the same, or something like this, I could imagine. The role is “machine learning engineer” and MLOps is the practice of following the best practices roadmap, let's say. It’s some maturity level, or a roadmap that is available out there. So, ML engineer is the profession or the role, and MLOps is the practice of performing such a role with the rest of the departments – communicating with your business and your operations. (15:29)

The roles of ML Ops

Alexey:: The people who are doing MLOps, who are they? Are they ML engineers, or is it a special person who we can call an “MLOps engineer”. If you want to do MLOps, what kind of role do you want to acquire? (16:16)

Alexey:: Well, MLOps is the practice that three different roles in an organization perform. There’s the business need, the production operation, and the development, all working together and following the best practices. Similar to how in DevOps, you have a developer, you have the operator, and you have the business need. The business need defines the metric, or the SLO or SLI. You define these metrics, you define the error budget. Then in the space of the operator and developer, you have someone who's producing something, and he's collaborating with someone who is consuming something – that's the customer – the operator is consuming the code that the developer wrote. In the space of MLOps, it's similar. You have the ML engineer who's creating the model, creating the pipeline and maintaining it. Then you have the operator who is monitoring, operating the model, and making sure that the pipeline is working properly. Then the business, or the product owner, or however you want to call him or her – the person setting the requirements or the service level. (16:37)

Alexey:: The product manager, right? (17:48)

Theo:: Yeah, you could say product manager, but not in the form of giving the requirements and not even knowing who they are working with. It's about having a common theme that they are working together, maybe under the same manager even, if possible. But they are focusing on delivering something very particular, like a set of models. This is a special team that is doing, let's say, the sets in the organization, and this is the special thing that is doing the recommendation. (18:36)

Alexey:: Okay. It’s basically a cross-functional team where everyone is working on solving the same problem together as one team. So, it’s not like the developers do something and then they throw it over the wall to the original team – they support it, but everyone is working together. (18:16)

Theo:: That’s the cultural topic of MLOps and it's quite similar, or even the same as the culture in DevOps. (18:36)

Alexey:: So, the ML engineer is this developer role, but who has this operator role in the MLOps world? How can we call these people? (18:44)

Theo:: Well, you might have the same people who are performing this action. If you have a small, functionally complete team that is doing this and who is responsible for what they are writing – that's what they wrote at the Amazon lead, for example, with the big two [Inaudible] teams, saying that you build it and you run it. You have a team of, let's say, five people, and the product owner that is defining the inputs and outputs of the team, or the interfaces, the API definitions and everything, and the developers are the same people who are also running it. If you would say that you have separate departments, in the past, that were producing a model and were operating the model, you would expect that in the future, you would have one common thing – they perform this action as a functional completed team. (18:58)

Alexey:: Is there such a thing as an MLOps engineer as a role, in the same way that we have site reliability engineers or DevOps engineers? I also saw this title pop up sometimes. (19:51)

Theo:: I don't think that it will become a title. Maybe people will have it because it's a fancy word now, like data scientist was 10 years ago. But I don't think this will become a role of a department. If it does, that would be a shame because we've also seen this in some organizations trying to create a role, or even a team, with the name DevOps. They are missing the whole concept of having DevOps. The whole concept is about having a common team that is performing this function rather than having different things to communicate with each other over an escalation path for different managers and operating silos. (20:08)

Alexey:: Okay. So, we have a team and in the team, we have three roles: we have the developer, the operator, and somebody from business. The developer is the machine learning engineer, from business, we have a product owner or product manager, and the operator can be someone like the site reliability engineer. I know that at OLX, we have a role called site ability engineer, and then in parenthesis, we say “machine learning”, but it means nothing else except that it will be someone who will be working with the ML team. Did you see these things coming up, like some sort of specialization within the SRE role? (20:55)

Theo:: That's a good question. Eventually, I think, more and more people will jump into that role. Because maintaining a model will become more adopted in organizations – having machine learning models will become more than just a trend, but the fact of how organizations operate as they are switching from process-driven to data-driven to model-driven organizations. That's the concept of democratization of machine learning. You have your whole organization being able to utilize models, and even to build them, if possible. Thus, more and more software engineers will come to become machine learning engineers. More and more data scientists will transition to that, like they have transitioned from data mining experts or statisticians into that role. The software is the tool to achieve what you want anyway. The model can also be the tool, in the future, to achieve what you want as a function in the organization. (21:47)

Recognizing an MLOps role and MLOps maturity

Alexey:: Let's say we want to find a place, or a company, that practices MLOps, and we're looking for a job right now. How do we recognize that a job posting is for an MLOps role? Are there some specific keywords that I need to look for? (22:56)

Theo:: Well, the easiest thing would be to look at the skills required. You can search in the requirements or the responsibilities for the role, but usually, these are just fancy sentences. (23:20)

Alexey:: “Experience in MLOps,” go figure out what that means. [laughs] (23:42)

Theo:: [laughs] But, of course, if you're seeing names of tools like Kubeflow in the skill set or ML pipelines and even special skills on components that are trending now in the space of monitoring of machine learning models in the space of fairness and detection. Then, of course, you can understand that they have reached some depth in the maturity of the MLOps. Maybe I can use this opportunity to say that there is an article written by Google, and then there was an article written by Microsoft, on the topic of maturity on the MLOps. (23:47)

Theo:: In these articles, they have defined levels. Google defined three levels – 0, 1, 2 – and Microsoft defined five levels – 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 – and they describe with some bullet points regarding what are the requirements to achieve maturity in the adoption of MLOps. There is even an MLOps roadmap for 2020 and 2025, which describes all the technologies that you should adopt in order to mature in that space. We didn't have this back 10 years ago when we were defining DevOps. We had the manifesto of what DevOps is and how we should collaborate, but we didn't have such a nice definition of how to mature. I appreciate that. I can post references at the end. (23:47)

Alexey:: Maybe we can just quickly go over these three levels of maturity. It was from Google, you said? (25:33)

Theo:: Yeah, there is one from Google and one from Microsoft. (25:41)

Alexey:: The one from Google has three and the one from Microsoft has five. So, the one from Microsoft is probably more detailed. But the one from Google, what kind of stages did they define? (25:44)

Theo:: Yes. They break it down into people, processes, and technology – traditional maturity models from their organization. Then they describe with bullet points “What are the important things to have?” They show that at maturity level zero, that’s when you don't have MLOps, which means that you have manual processes to train a model, and you have manual processes to deploy a model. You also have someone who is monitoring the model and maybe makes a decision after comparing it with some data that they receive from a data store to perform a training activity. (25:54)

Alexey:: By “manual”, you mean running it in a Jupyter Notebook? Or something fancier? For training, specifically. (26:32)

Theo:: Manual monitoring or manual deployment? (26:41)

Alexey:: No, model training. Because I know for a fact that even we at OLX sometimes do that with a model and then what we do to train it is just run a Jupyter Notebook, and then you know, run, run, run. At the end you have a model. (26:43)

Theo:: Even if you're not doing it in your laptop, and you're doing it in the cloud, such as in Sage Maker, it's still a manual process. If you have to start a notebook, and clickety click, run the cells and produce your artifact, and produce your model. This is a manual process, this is the maturity level is zero, where you don't have ML Ops. You might have DevOps and you might have CI there, and you might have it where the model is being picked up by S3 and it's being deployed in Sage Maker endpoint and it's been made available. But you definitely don't have MLOps. (27:01)

Theo:: Of course, there are other things. You might have integration with an application that you might want to introduce and this is also not something that you have automated in the MLOps space – MLOps level zero. Then they describe the level one of maturity. That’s when you are starting to introduce some automation. You're building a pipeline, and then you have the components of the pipeline that are doing the data validation that you're receiving in a nice way that the TensorFlow extended paper defined about four years ago. You have components that are validating the data that you have received or the features, whether they are according to the schema of the data that you are expecting and performing the training, having the evaluation component of the evaluation module that is setting the criteria that you have set in order to promote it or to label it as a ‘golden model’ that you will promote in production or that will go for more testing in order to release it. (27:01)

Theo:: When you have a pipeline, this is an automation task, and the level goes up to maturity level one, because you spend less time on this, there’s less friction between teams. The teams are working together and you have the data engineer who's producing the features, working together with a machine learning engineer who is maintaining the training job, and who maybe wakes up during the night to fix a broken model. Because that's also the role of the operator, which the machine learning engineer should have, if we want to have this combined MLOps role. (27:01)

Alexey:: So basically, when we train our model in Jupyter by clicking ‘run, run, run’, this is automation level zero. Once we move this from a notebook to a script, then there is a certain level of automation (when we don't do this manually). But instead, there is some training pipeline that we can easily run. We change some parameters, hit enter and then it just transfers them – this is level one. Right? (29:22)

Theo:: Yes, and more things as well. You are producing metrics that you are observing and you make a decision to hit the button in your CI to do retraining. (29:53)

Alexey:: Well, this is still manual, right? (30:05)

Theo:: Yes, it’s manual. But maybe it automatically adds your new features from your feature store, or if you have some data versioning system, and etc. So, that's the maturity level one. Then there is the visual – the ultimate goal that we should target. That's maturity level two in terms of Google, level four in terms of Microsoft, which says that we have an automated retraining process. The model is being monitored with all the metrics that we have mentioned in the past. Not only the service-level metrics, like the latency and the number of requests, but all these quality metrics about the fairness and the robustness, and maybe even explainability topics that you want to have. (30:08)

Theo:: To detect whether your model is degrading, this is a difficult problem. So, it’s having all these metrics in your Prometheus that are setting data drift and model’s concept drift, and all these sensors that you have around your ecosystem are triggering. So, you have triggers, and these are triggering an execution of a pipeline. This is maturity level two. Triggering the execution of a pipeline is a whole another discussion. What we have been seeing in the last 10 years of big data was the scheduler – that was the ultimate component that was periodically performing an action, maybe daily training a model or maybe nightly creating the new features from your orders – from your data set. That was typically a time-driven execution, time-driven scheduling. But now, the modern machine learning pipelines, which are different from data pipelines, should be data-driven. They should be able to be triggered by your metrics, your threshold. (30:08)

Theo:: So, you define thresholds for the metrics that you have set, or even the threshold is something static, even the threshold should be something that you can even create a model for in order to identify when we should trigger the retraining. Imagine having this being trained when you don't want it. So, when you are setting up a data-driven execution, you need special tooling for that pipeline. But then you're having such quality problems that you're facing as an organization, that you are maturing on how the model is performing. That's why I think that this maturity model will help organizations get deeper and better into onboarding ML models. (30:08)

Changing the mindset to MLOps

Alexey:: So basically, to help not just directly jump on monitoring drift and having faith in the model that it will retrain itself and everything will be fine. Instead, it’s just gradually moving from one step to another and changing the mindset in the meantime, right? (33:11)

Theo:: Yes, and of course, the foundation is monitoring. I’m vocal about this – we should take care of our models in production and not only take care of them, but create new data out of how they are performing. Because the monitoring is generating data, it’s not only the payload loading where you get the inference request and the inference responds with class names, let's say. You also want all the peripheral explainability metrics – fairness, etc. (33:27)

Alexey:: I see that as a change in mindset. We need to care about all these things before we can implement them. But I assume that it also requires some special tooling. What are these tools? What can we use to actually help MLOps and have all these things? Are there even tools for this at all? (34:01)

Theo:: Yes, of course. What I was fascinated about in the MLCon, in this and last week, was that there are so many vendors jumping on this train and using the buzzword ‘MLOps’ to promote their solution. And good vendors that are focusing on the right direction and focusing on how to build systems that are triggering jobs, how to build monitoring tools, and how to produce SDKs that are helping you build monitoring tools. (34:25)

Theo:: Not only vendors, of course, there is plenty of open-source software and the whole ecosystem of Kubeflow is a collection of such tools. The fact of that is that it should be Kubernetes-based. That's the new Linux for me. Linux dominated the world 20 years ago, and we still have it in like 90-something percent in our data centers. Kubernetes is the de facto way to manage workloads. The way that we are doing machine learning on Kubernetes is today, Kubeflow is the leading tool. (34:25)


Alexey:: So, Kubeflow is the tool we should have if we want to start implementing MLOps in our organization. Let's say, if we don't want to go to a vendor, we want to go with open source, then Kubeflow is the tool we want in order to help us. Right? (35:37)

Theo:: Absolutely. But also vendors. The leading vendor right now in the Kubeflow community is AWS and Microsoft, together with Google and other great developers who are constantly delivering new functionality. The business has identified that by sharing the capabilities of the ecosystem, they also promote the product. So, as they are delivering cloud services, they want to deliver cloud services that are based on products that other people know. When you are using Sage Maker, maybe you're invoking a pipeline that, in the back, is a Kubeflow pipeline. When you are deploying a model, an inference service, in Google Cloud, it might be KF serving inference service. When you are running Jupyter in Azure, it might be running as a Kubernetes pod following the Kubeflow definition. (35:51)

Alexey:: Maybe let's take a step back and talk about Kubeflow. What is it and what kind of components do we have in Kubeflow? (36:58)

Theo:: For me, Kubeflow is an ecosystem that delivers an ML platform. If you jump on it, you will start figuring out that there are components that you were not aware of and you might want to start using them in your workflow. For example, when we deployed some models last year in the company, we just focused on having a model that is servable, one that we can use to send inference requests and get the responses. But then we have seen that with KF serving, which is the Kubeflow serving subcomponent, we have peripheral tools like the explainer and the transformer, and then the drift detector and the outlier detector. (37:06)

Theo:: Now we have more and more components. By utilizing them, we started building metrics. So, Kubeflow is a superset of components. For me, the component I love the most is KF serving, because I'm so into the things that are in production. But, of course, it's touching areas before the serving – it’s touching areas before the deployment. The big component of Kubeflow is also the Kubeflow pipelines, which are based on different schedulers. You can have it with two different data-driven schedulers. One is Argo CD from Intuit, and the other is the Tekton from K-native. These pipelines are an implementation of the TFX, and implementation of the TensorFlow extended. So, the paper that was given to the public four years ago from Google that says we should have component-based and data-driven execution between the components with a Pop/Sub type of relationship, led the way to have such an implementation, the Kubeflow pipelines. Then more and more tools are assembling in this popular feature store called Feast from Gojek is now also part of the community – it has joined the ecosystem. I wouldn't be surprised if this will be donated to a foundation any moment soon. Did I answer your question about KubeFlow? (37:06)

Alexey:: From what I understood, Kubeflow will have this KF serving component that, in addition to just serving models, also has nice features of detecting outliers and detecting drift. In addition to that, there is another component called Kubeflow pipelines, which we use for building our training pipelines. Then there is the third component, which is Feast, which is not yet part of Kubeflow as I understood. But it's a feature store that we can use when building our training pipelines. (39:36)

Theo:: Yes, and other components as well. There is this nice tool for hyperparameter optimization and neural architecture effect, which is called Katib. It was a Google Visio (or something) product that evolved to Katib. Katib is image describing in a YAML that you want to set that space to define an optimization objective – as a data scientist, you want to train the model and receive 99% accuracy. So, that's your optimization objective. Then you define the ranges of your hyperparameters, the same way that you're doing grid search and you say, “I want my learning rate, to search values between 001 and 002 with a step of this amount.” Then it splits all these different executions of the search into components or into pods, or into containers, if you like, in the space of Docker and Kubernetes, that are performing this training job with these parameters and then they are producing a result – it's been reduced – and then comparing all the results in a nice visual view to decide which model to promote. (40:12)

Theo:: The nice thing about it is that these components can be installed as standalone components in your cluster without having to have full blown Kubeflow. However, the beauty of it is that you can also have it full blown. They have tight integration. There is this company called Arrikto that has built this tool called K, which gives you the ability to transform your notebook cells into containers. So, you build the whole pipeline in a notebook and then, when you click ‘play’, it builds containers of your cells to perform this activity. Then you split it and send it to Katib for the hyperparameter search, let's say, and then deploy the best model. Beautiful stuff. (40:12)

Alexey:: You mentioned TFX (TensorFlow Extended) a couple of times. Did I understand correctly that Kubeflow is an implementation of that paper? (42:19)

Theo:: Yes. They don't call it that. Since the beginning, they were saying that they don't see something as an extended externalization of Google ML platform, but this is what this to me. [laughs] If you look at TFX, it’s how to do production with TensorFlow, that’s saying that you can also do it with Airflow. Because Airflow is also a scheduler. You have your data, you have your components, you are producing an artifact from each component and it's being used maybe for the input of the next task. Similarly, you can also do it with Apache Beam, which is another software that is abstracting your Spark or your Pandas or whatever framework you're using for your data processing to perform certain such tasks. But for me, the production-, or the enterprise-level system is Kubeflow. (42:28)

How to learn Kubeflow

Alexey:: If I want to learn Kubeflow, how can I do that? (43:23)

Theo:: As a nice, open-source tool, it has a beautiful community. I would advise to start from the website of Kubeflow. They have excellent documentation. It’s still being built. The documentation itself is open source, so you can extend it if you find the problem. You can also join as a contributor to the project if you have an idea of how to improve something. The organization of Kubeflow has around 20 repositories of 20 different components and you can onboard and read the GitHub issues. If you have a problem, search the code and figure out what the problem you are having is – if you want to resolve the problem. Because it's becoming a more and more complex system, you will have more and more problems, as you can imagine. But it also has easy ways to start. (43:28)

Theo:: There are two books already published about this from O'Reilly. There are YouTube videos where you can find how to get started for each individual component. There are workshops delivered from each vendor. AWS, for example, has a workshop on Kubeflow. There is a special website for that. IBM created the Kubeflow Dojo, which is a set of training, a two-day workshop that specifies how to perform certain different implementations. Not only to install it but also to use it – to get the TFX example with the taxi driver, for example, if you remember. It was published two years ago. And build it in Tekton pipelines in Kubeflow. (43:28)

Alexey:: I remember going through this myself. We used AWS and there is a nice article in Kubeflow recommendation, (end-to-end setup on AWS or something like that) and you just can follow this article, and you have a full blown Kubeflow your cluster. Right? (45:12)

Theo: Yeah. (46:33)

Alexey:: Do you maybe have something in mind, maybe an easy getting started project one can do? Let's say by following this tutorial, they set up a Kubeflow in their AWS or Google Cloud or whatever, and they just want to learn this. Is there an easy getting started project, like Iris in machine learning? (46:36)

Theo:: Sure. The easiest way is to start Sage Maker, build the pipeline, and fit some features from the feature store and deploy them in the endpoint. It gives you the Sage Maker studio that is doing all these things nicely. The same way with Google Cloud, which is also Kubeflow-based, so AI platform is, when you are creating a model, you're creating an inference service. When you are creating a pipeline, you are creating a Kubeflow pipeline. So, that's the easiest way. You'll consume it as a service from a cloud provider. But if you want to get deeper as a machine learning engineer and maintain your own implementation from the open-source tool, rather than paying a vendor for that, you can install it, as you described, from this nice document. (46:01)

Data versioning and DataOps

Alexey:: We also have a question about data versioning. How important data is versioning in MLOps? (46:47)

Theo:: It is important. The data is the raw source of what you need in order to produce a model. You cannot produce a model without data. As we discussed cast, there is the concept of data drift. So, you want to retrain your model with the new data. But when you have new versions of the model, then we are introducing the concept of model versions, next to your code version, and next to your data versioning. You want to have some type of synchronization or record of which version of the model was used, which version of data with which version of code. Because, as you will start automating and to have automated retraining, you want to be able to review all these things. You want to be able to go back. (46:58)

Theo:: Maybe due to privacy or GDPR issues, you would like to go back in time and figure out why this model gave this inference. “Why did this model say that this customer should not get a loan from the bank?” So, you need to go back to the model version that gave this prediction, you need to have the payload, of course, you need to go back from this model to map it to the data that you have used in order to train it, to see which feature was important, and for example, see that customer had another loan. So, that was another feature and because of that, the importance of these features, the model should infer that the customer should not get a loan. So tracking of the versions of the data, of the code, and the model usually is done in a system called the metadata, or machine learning metadata store. (46:58)

Theo:: There is good news, the TensorFlow team decided to work together with the Kubeflow team and combine this project into one and build the MLMD system, which is nothing more than an SQL database with an API that is receiving metadata records when the model is being generated, or a data set has been created, or a feature has been updated, and keeps a record for reference. Imagine having your model degradation metrics in your Prometheus that are annotated with that model version. You can see how it degrades, its version, and even if you're doing A/B testing between different model versions, or I don't know, blue-green deployment, you want to be able to see how different model versions are behaving. Having the ability to track back into the data that were used to produce this is important. It’s crucial, but not part of the responsibility of the machine learning platform. The data versioning is the responsibility of the data platform and this is different. (46:58)

Alexey:: This is Data Ops, right? (50:35)

Theo: Yeah, why not. We have been using the data already to build data-driven organizations for 15 years, 10 years, build nice visuals, dashboards, and justify decisions based on data or even use data to make decisions – even better. We have a lot of development and a lot of progress in the space of data processing. So, all these data scientists and data analysts have been using the data platforms with data engineers have been doing this thing called ‘Data Ops’, which was brilliant. We are moving on to the next step, let's say, to MLOps – as they are onboarding machine learning models now. (50:35)

Alexey:: Okay. So, MLOps in a way, is a continuation of Data Ops, which is also, in a way, a continuation of DevOps that we had 10 years ago. (50:35)

Theo:: Or different branches. (50:45)

Alexey:: Yes, different branches. Exactly. Because we have data engineers and we have ML engineers and each has their own specific set of things they do to become more efficient. Right? (50:46)

Theo:: But I wouldn't be surprised if all of these would merge under one title. We've seen the data scientist role becoming the one deity to cover everything. (51:00)

Alexey:: Yes, exactly. Well, let's see what happens with the data scientist data, which probably will stop existing and at some point, right? (51:10)

Theo: Yeah. (51:20)

Kubeflow in mobile

Alexey:: There is a question about a demo, but we will not do a demo. This is a podcast, which will be released without video, eventually. So, there will be no demo, sorry. Philippa is asking. “Do you have any experience in deploying models on mobile apps offline? And does it make sense to use Kubeflow in this case? If not, what kind of tool exists for this case? (51:10)

Theo:: As far as I'm aware, most of the deployments of these models in the UPS are manual processes. However, the good news is that the vendors have realized that with the adoption of 5g, mobile devices will become just EDGE devices – like a CDN node that's delivering video. So, they are extending Kubernetes into EDGE, so a mobile device can be a Kubernetes node that is performing, that is running containers. So, we have a data science center in the mobile. [laughs] Imagine that. (51:44)

Theo:: Microsoft, for example, has this Leaf as it’s called, or I don't remember, but mobile devices receiving containers. So the scheduler is also considering the mobile device to receive a new version of the application or a new version of the model. Here we are, as this will become faster and faster, the phone line and the phone capability, in terms of processing, will be able to handle loads in such a way to serve models, individually. In that, the retraining will be even more important, because you will have personalized – we already have personalized models. (51:44)

Theo:: The doorbell model I have for my Nest is personalized, according to the people who are coming to my house, and I'm tagging them with their faces. Every time I'm tagging the face of someone that's my friend, then the model is detecting human needs saying that your friend is at the door and it's telling me his name. This model has been retrained so often. (51:44)

Alexey:: So, this is something you have in your home, you have this model? (53:21)

Theo:: Well, I don't even know how this model works but that’s what I assume. It's a ML detection model that is getting an image of someone who's ringing my doorbell and it’s saying, “Oh, this is your wife”, or “This is your kid, Latki.” Every time there is a new face, I have in my list of faces, an option to tag them in order to improve the model, or to create a new class of a new person that is a new friend of mine, and the doorbell has never seen them before. So, if I have this, imagine how this will become more and more democratized. (53:28)

Alexey:: That’s interesting. We have a question from Howard. It's not related to your doorbell model, but it's also interesting. “Do you think we'll see an MLOps manifesto anytime soon?” (54:06)

Theo:: We briefly talked about this. There was a DevOps manifesto and I think the equivalent of the DevOps manifesto these days is the two articles of Microsoft and Google on the MLOps maturity level or MLOps maturity model. Of course, there’s nice work from the continuous delivery foundation from CNCF, from Williams foundation, on the MLOps Roadmap for 2025. So, for the next five years, what an organization should do in order to reach the maturity level that is described in the paper with details “This is how you should track fairness, and this is how you should retrain the model.” Et cetera. (54:18)

The importance of Kubeflow

Alexey:: Yeah. We will ask you to share the links later, so our listeners can read. There is an interesting question that caught my attention. “Would you recommend learning Kubeflow?” (55:01)

Theo:: Absolutely. Even for the data scientist, even for the machine learning engineer. It's not just using it – it's about extending it. We've seen so many people getting interested in this popular GitHub project called TensorFlow and everyone contributed to the implementation of the paper in TensorFlow and PyTorch over the last 10 years and especially over the last five years. Why shouldn't we see the same in the space of engineering and the same way that we had Airflow become so successful in the space of data orchestration, we should have the same for ML orchestration. We should have a good representation of engineers contributing to the Kubeflow project. So, a welcoming community, 10 meetings every week about its different components, and everyone is welcome to join. (55:13)

Alexey:: There is also a Slack, right? (56:12)

Theo:: Yes, of course. (56:14)

Alexey:: I think it's quite a large community. I'm also in that Slack. It's almost like 5000 people. It's pretty large. (56:16)

Theo:: Not as large as the Kubernetes community, right? If you go, it's like 6 digits already. (56:27)

Alexey:: Still. Probably in a couple of years, it will get there. (56:34)

Alexey:: “What do you think makes MLOps easier?” Probably the question is like “How does MLOps help make things easier?” Why should we even adopt that and what should we do? Does it make it easier to monitor things, to debug? What are the benefits? (56:42)

Theo:: I think I briefly mentioned that the technology is still the enabler for progress. As we have learned about explainability and anomaly detection, because we have tried the serving, that's how we got experienced into other components that we were not looking for. When you get exposure to a new tool that is not only giving you what you want, but also the other things that you don't know yet. This is how you get progress, especially with new tools. This is what makes a technology an enabler. MLOps is something you need to adopt as an organization because it will help you become a model-driven organization. It will help you replace functions that are done manually with automation, or even improve, or even build products based on models. There are so many businesses already having model-based products. (57:04)


Alexey:: And to have a somewhat related question about that. You also mentioned Katib, which is an AutoML tool from Kubeflow. “Will AutoML kill the data science role? Is there any risk of that?” (58:09)

Theo:: Well, not “kill” but “commoditize”. Why should we have a PhD level expert to tune all these parameters? That’s what we had in the past, right? One of the tasks of the data scientist, who was also a PhD-level employee, had to search in the space of hyperparameters what the optimal combination is that gives him the best results for his model. This has already been replaced by the search capability. That didn't send them away from the job. That kept them the job and made them more productive. So, data scientists will become more productive with AutoML, they will become more productive with ML platforms and they will have to worry about more mature problems, like “Which other metrics should I introduce in my fairness detection? Should I also worry about how the model is going to perform to data we haven't seen yet?” And things like that. (58:25)

Alexey:: So, the role of a data scientist is not at risk, unless the only thing that the data scientist does is tune in models, right? (59:36)

Theo:: In the space of Katib. Remember, we also spent a lot of time in OLX and in other companies on deploying. See how easy it is now with KF serving? You just say “This is my S3 location of my model and that's the name of a model.” And then bam, you have an API endpoint which you can start consuming. (59:49)

Alexey:: A couple of years ago, we would need to spend at least a week to actually build all this – web service, put the model there, create deployment in Kubernetes, create service, secure it, add metrics, then add auto-scaling, and then have and SRE sitting there tuning the auto scaling and all that. Now it's indeed a lot simpler. (1:00:11)

Theo:: And 20 years ago, we needed to order some servers, drag them, and put in the cables. I’ve done this, that's why I'm saying it, because I see this progress. And that's good to abstract more and more from the work that we have been doing in the past and evolve into more high-level tasks. (1:00:42)

Team sizes and siloing in companies

Alexey:: We still have two more questions. Do you have time to answer them? One question is, “How can a small team build fully automated MLOps operations? It seems to me like only big teams can do that.” Is this true in your opinion? (1:01:06)

Theo:: We have experienced to share about this. Remember? It was a couple of people or maybe three people in our organization and your company. We have worked together to put like 5-10 models in the KF serving and release it. It took us two hours to install it and the deployment was also a few minutes. Just using one part of the component is simple and if you want also a full blown, then it depends. It will give you the ability to spend more time on it, because it will also give you the ability to do more stuff with it. So, if a small team of three people is only spending time to build a model and release it and spend time on monitoring, imagine how more productive this team would be if they would have all these functions already available in the form of services and they would worry about how to speak to the business to ask how to improve the model and make it better? (1:01:24)

Alexey:: This is also related to teams – I see what it's like when teams are siloed, or isolated, by different languages, different use cases, manual experiment tracking, how would you recommend these teams to start moving in the ML Ops direction? (1:02:33)

Theo:: Well, the good news is that these things are language-agnostic. Of course, there shouldn't be silos in the organization, especially based on language. At least the development departments should be working together. But the tooling is already helping with that. It’s another topic. It's the cultural topic of MLOps or even DevOps, “How do you make an organization that is not based on silos?” But you will always have the force moving towards that direction with silos, because politics play a role and it’s a normal thing for human beings to build silos around to protect the area around their territory. But the technology is helping here because it's also agnostic to the language. (1:02:56)

Theo:: For example, the Tekton pipelines or even the pipelines in general, it’s an SDK that is helping you build a YAML definition of the components. That's also the difference with Airflow for example. In Airflow, you normally have Python, and your tasks should be Python-base and all the tasks should be Python-based. In a pipeline that is done just invoking containers, imagine that each container can be in a separate language. So, the container that does the data validation and built by the data department can be written in Scala and the container that is doing the training can be written in Python with PyTorch. (1:02:56)

Theo:: So, this pipeline is invoking those different components, is getting the artifacts that are produced from the previous and whatever is subscribed to that is pulling it to move to the next step. So, the technology is also helping. If you have a siloed organization, as you said in the question, in the form of using different languages, that's not a barrier anymore. You don't have to onboard everyone to learn Scala or Python. (1:02:56)

Alexey:: That's a good thing. We don't have any more questions. So, thank you very much for coming today. Do you have any last words? (1:04:48)

Theo:: No, it's been my as you're talking to Alexey and the audience. I will send the links to the maturity models and the roadmap in the chats. (1:04:59)

Alexey:: We can share them in Slack and then I'll also put them in the comments in YouTube and podcasts. Thanks a lot for coming, for sharing your knowledge, your experience with us and thanks, everyone for attending this talk today. (1:05:08)

Theo:: Thanks, Alexey. (1:05:22)

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