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TensorFlow on Azure Using Docker

We live in a time of proliferating machine learning toolkits. From the not-so-humble start of OpenCV (for computer vision), Weka, and Caffe, in just a short period of time we've added Torch, Theano, CNTKand now TensorFlowand SystemML (and I'm not even mentioning things like SparkMLand AzureML). As a non-researcher who actually needs to make use of these things, honestly, it's kind of freaking me out - way too much to learn in way too short a time.

TensorFlowis a shiny new tensor-based neural network toolkit (so computational flow graphs instead of the more traditional layer-based neural networks) which currently runs on Linux and MacOS (but not Windows, due primarily to their dependence on Bazel for building, see issue 17 on their GitHub repo). However, in the new Microsoft we don't let things like that stop us! In this guide I'll show you how to deploy a TensorFlow-enabled Python (Jupyter, really) Notebook onto a Linux VM in Azure using Docker.

Docker On Azure

If you're unfamiliar with Docker, it's a containerization service - meaning that you build out a machine once, and let Docker take care of stamping that image on as many "machines" (really, containers) as you want. Container definitions can inherit, meaning if someone has built almost exactly what you need, you're free to inherit from that and add/remove as you see fit. The good news for me is that I can "stand on the shoulders of giants" and use the hard work of others for my own purposes.

Docker came to Azure last year in a big way, and now it's easier than ever to fire up a new VM running a Docker engine. Using the now-GA "new" portal, just search for "Docker on Ubuntu":

Search for docker on ubuntu

Once you select "Docker on Ubuntu Server" you'll be guided through the creation process:

Docker VM Creation

Upon completion, your VM will start up, and you can then SSH into it and execute whatever Docker commands you wish.

Installing TensorFlow

Once you have Docker installed on a VM, it's simple to install TensorFlow into a container on that VM. You could use the image that Google has provided with their release, but I prefer to have it running inside of aJupyter notebook to allow me to play around with it.

Fortunately, I'm not alone, and someone has already created a Docker image on DockerHub containing a Jupyter installation with TensorFlow - thanks xblaster! Since Jupyter notebooks run a local server, we need to allow port-forwarding for the port we intend to run on. Let's assume we use the default that xblaster mentions in his readme - 8888. We need to not only port-forward from the container to the Docker-engine-running VM, but we need to port-forward from the VM externally. To do so, we simple expose that port via the Azure portal by adding a new endpoint mapping 8888 to whichever external port you choose:

Exposing the Jupyter notebook

Now that you've exposed the endpoint from Azure, you can fire up the Docker container by using the command:

docker run -d -p 8888:8888 -v /notebook:/notebook xblaster/tensorflow-jupyter

This will take some time, but once it's complete you should have a fully functional Docker container running TensorFlow inside a Jupyter notebook, which will persist the notebook for you.

Testing the Installation

Now that you have a running Jupyter notebook instance, you can hit your endpoint from your own home machine at http://\<your-vm> and see it in action. Create a new Python2 notebook, and then paste the code below and run it to verify that TensorFlow is installed and working (from their documentation):

import tensorflow as tf
import numpy as np

# Create 100 phony x, y data points in NumPy, y = x * 0.1 + 0.3
x_data = np.random.rand(100).astype("float32")
y_data = x_data * 0.1 + 0.3

# Try to find values for W and b that compute y_data = W * x_data + b
# (We know that W should be 0.1 and b 0.3, but Tensorflow will
# figure that out for us.)
W = tf.Variable(tf.random_uniform([1], -1.0, 1.0))
b = tf.Variable(tf.zeros([1]))
y = W * x_data + b

# Minimize the mean squared errors.
loss = tf.reduce_mean(tf.square(y - y_data))
optimizer = tf.train.GradientDescentOptimizer(0.5)
train = optimizer.minimize(loss)

# Before starting, initialize the variables.  We will 'run' this first.
init = tf.initialize_all_variables()

# Launch the graph.
sess = tf.Session()

# Fit the line.
for step in xrange(201):
    if step % 20 == 0:
        print step,,

# Learns best fit is W: [0.1], b: [0.3]

Now you know it works, but notice that you didn't need to hit an https endpoint or type in any credentials - this is "security through obscurity", otherwise known as not secure at all! Do me a favor and don't use this for anything you don't mind losing, and shut it down when you're done. If you want to secure your notebook, that's beyond the scope of this post, but the documentation is easy to follow.

Happy coding!

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