Tag Archives: experimentation

Flyte 1 Year In

(cover image generated with Midjourney)

On the racetrack of building ML applications, traditional software development steps are often overtaken. Welcome to the world of MLOps, where unique challenges meet innovative solutions and consistency is king. 

At Bazaarvoice, training pipelines serve as the backbone of our MLOps strategy. They underpin the reproducibility of our model builds. A glaring gap existed, however, in graduating experimental code to production.

Rather than continuing down piecemeal approaches, which often centered heavily on Jupyter notebooks, we determined a standard was needed to empower practitioners to experiment and ship machine learning models extremely fast while following our best practices.

Build vs. Buy

Fresh off the heels of our wins from unifying our machine learning (ML) model deployment strategy, we first needed to decide whether to build a custom in-house ML workflow orchestration platform or seek external solutions.

When deciding to “buy” (it is open source after all), selecting Flyte as our workflow management platform emerged as a clear choice. It saved invaluable development time and nudged our team closer to delivering a robust self-service infrastructure. Such an infrastructure allows our engineers to build, evaluate, register, and deploy models seamlessly. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Flyte equipped us with an efficient wheel to race ahead.

Before leaping with Flyte, we embarked on an extensive evaluation journey. Choosing the right workflow orchestration system wasn’t just about selecting a tool but also finding a platform to complement our vision and align with our strategic objectives. We knew the significance of this decision and wanted to ensure we had all the bases covered. Ultimately the final tooling options for consideration were Flyte, Metaflow, Kubeflow Pipelines, and Prefect.

To make an informed choice, we laid down a set of criteria:

Criteria for Evaluation


  • Ease of Development: The tool should intuitively aid developers without steep learning curves.
  • Deployment: Quick and hassle-free deployment mechanisms.
  • Pipeline Customization: Flexibility to adjust pipelines as distinct project requirements arise.
  • Visibility: Clear insights into processes for better debugging and understanding.


  • AWS Integration: Seamless integration capabilities with AWS services.
  • Metadata Retention: Efficient storage and retrieval of metadata.
  • Startup Time: Speedy initialization to reduce latency.
  • Caching: Optimal data caching for faster results.

Neutral, Yet Noteworthy:

  • Security: Robust security measures ensuring data protection.
  • User Administration: Features facilitating user management and access control.
  • Cost: Affordability – offering a good balance between features and price.

Why Flyte Stood Out: Addressing Key Criteria

Diving deeper into our selection process, Flyte consistently addressed our top criteria, often surpassing the capabilities of other tools under consideration:

  1. Ease of Development: Pure Python | Task Decorators
    • Python-native development experience
  2. Deployment: Kubernetes Cluster
    • Flyte’s native Kubernetes integration simplified the deployment process
  3. Pipeline Customization
    • Easily customize any workflow and task by modifying the task decorator
  4. Visibility
    • Easily accessible container logs
    • Flyte decks enable reporting visualizations 

The Bazaarvoice customization

As with any platform, while Flyte brought many advantages, we needed a different plug-and-play solution for our unique needs. We anticipated the platform’s novelty within our organization. We wanted to reduce the learning curve as much as possible and allow our developers to transition smoothly without being overwhelmed.

To smooth the transition and expedite the development process, we’ve developed a cookiecutter template to serve as a launchpad for developers, providing a structured starting point that’s standardized and aligned with best practices for Flyte projects. This structure empowers developers to swiftly construct training pipelines.

The most relevant files provided by the template are:

  • Pipfile    - Details project dependencies 
  • Dockerfile - Builds docker container
  • Makefile   - Helper file to build, register, and execute projects
  • README.md  - Details the project 
  • src/
    • tasks/
    • Workflows.py (Follows the Kedro Standard for Data Layers)
      • process_raw_data - workflow to extract, clean, and transform raw data 
      • generate_model_input - workflow to create train, test, and validation data sets 
      • train_model - workflow to generate a serialized, trained machine learning model
      • generate_model_output - workflow to prevent train-serving skew by performing inference on the validation data set using the trained machine learning model
      • evaluate - workflow to evaluate the model on a desired set of performance metrics
      • reporting - workflow to summarize and visualize model performance
      • full - complete Flyte pipeline to generate trained model
  • tests/ - Unit tests for your workflows and tasks
  • run - Simplifies running of workflows

In addition, a common challenge in developing pipelines is needing resources beyond what our local machines offer. Or, there might be tasks that require extended runtimes. Flyte does grant the capability to develop locally and run remotely. However, this involves a series of steps:

  • Rebuild your custom docker image after each code modification.
  • Assign a version tag to this new docker image and push it to ECR.
  • Register this fresh workflow version with Flyte, updating the docker image.
  • Instruct Flyte to execute that specific version of the workflow, parameterizing via the CLI.

To circumvent these challenges and expedite the development process, we designed the template’s Makefile and run script to abstract the series of steps above into a single command!

./run —remote src/workflows.py full

The Makefile uses a couple helper targets, but overall provides the following commands:

  • info       - Prints info about this project
  • init       - Sets up project in flyte and creates an ECR repo 
  • build      - Builds the docker image 
  • push       - Pushes the docker image to ECR 
  • package    - Creates the flyte package 
  • register   - Registers version with flyte
  • runcmd     - Generates run command for both local and remote
  • test       - Runs any tests for the code
  • code_style - Applies black formatting & flake8

Key Triumphs

With Flyte as an integral component of our machine learning platform, we’ve achieved unmatched momentum in ML development. It enables swift experimentation and deployment of our models, ensuring we always adhere to best practices. Beyond aligning with fundamental MLOps principles, our customizations ensure Flyte perfectly meets our specific needs, guaranteeing the consistency and reliability of our ML models.

Closing Thoughts

Just as racers feel exhilaration crossing the finish line, our team feels an immense sense of achievement seeing our machine learning endeavors zoom with Flyte. As we gaze ahead, we’re optimistic, ready to embrace the new challenges and milestones that await. 🏎️

If you are drawn to this type of work, check out our job openings.

Kedro 6 Months In

We build AI software in two modes: experimentation and productization. During experimentation, we are trying to see if modern technology will solve our problem. If it does, we move on to productization and build reliable data pipelines at scale.

This presents a cyclical dependency when it comes to data engineering. We need reliable and maintainable data engineering pipelines during experimentation, but don’t know what that pipeline should do until after we’ve completed the experiments. In the past, I and many data scientists I know have used an ad-hoc combination of bash scripts and Jupyter Notebooks to wrangle experimental data. While this may have been the fastest way to get experimental results and model building, it’s really a technical debt that has to be paid down the road.

The Problem

Specifically, the ad-hoc approach to experimental data pipelines causes pain points around:

  • Reproducibility: Ad-hoc experimentation structures puts you at risk of making results that others can’t reproduce, which can lead to product downtime if or when you need to update your approach. Simple mistakes like executing a notebook cell twice or forgetting to seed a random number generator can usually be caught. But other, more insidious problems can occur, such as behavior changes between dependency versions.
  • Readability: If you’ve ever come across another person’s experimental code, you know it’s hard to find where to start. Even documented projects might just say “run x script, y notebook, etc”, and it’s often unclear where the data come from and if you’re on the right track. Similarly, code reviews for data science projects are often hard to read: it’s asking a lot for a reader to differentiate between notebook code for data manipulation and code for visualization.
  • Maintainability: It’s common during data science projects to do some exploratory analysis or generate early results, and then revise how your data is processed or gathered. This becomes difficult and tedious when all of these steps are an unstructured collection of notebooks or scripts. In other words, the pipeline is hard to maintain: updating or changing it requires you to keep track of the whole thing.
  • Shareability: Ad-hoc collections of notebooks and bash scripts are also difficult for a team to work on concurrently. Each member has to ensure their notebooks are up to date (version control on notebooks is less than ideal), and that they have the correct copy of any intermediate data.

Enter Kedro

A lot of the issues above aren’t new to the software engineering discipline and have been largely solved in that space. This is where Kedro comes in. Kedro is a framework for building data engineering pipelines whose structure forces you to follow good software engineering practices. By using Kedro in the experimentation phase of projects, we build maintainable and reproducible data pipelines that produce consistent experimental results.

Specifically, Kedro has you organize your data engineering code into one or more pipelines. Each pipeline consists of a number of nodes: a functional unit that takes some data sets and parameters as inputs and produces new data sets, models, or artifacts.

This simple but strict project structure is augmented by their data catalog: a YAML file that specifies how and where the input and output data sets are to be persisted. The data sets can be stored either locally or in a cloud data storage service such as S3.

I started using Kedro about six months ago, and since then have leveraged it for different experimental data pipelines. Some of these pipelines were for building models that eventually were deployed to production, and some were collaborations with team members. Below, I’ll discuss the good and bad things I’ve found with Kedro and how it helped us create reproducible, maintainable data pipelines.

The Good

  • Reproducibility: I can’t say enough good things here: they nailed it. Their dependency management took a bit of getting used to but it forces a specific version on all dependencies, which is awesome. Also, the ability to just type kedro install and kedro run to execute the whole pipeline is fantastic. You still have to remember to seed random number generators, but even that is easy to remember if you put it in their params.yml file.
  • Function Isolation: Kedro’s fixed project structure encourages you to think about what logical steps are necessary for your pipeline, and write a single node for each step. As a result, each node tends to be short (in terms of lines of code) and specific (in terms of logic). This makes each node easy to write, test, and read later on.
  • Developer Parallelization: The small nodes also make it easier for developers to work together concurrently. It’s easy to spot nodes that won’t depend on each other, and they can be coded concurrently by different people.
  • Intermediate Data: Perhaps my favorite thing about Kedro is the data catalog. Just add the name of an output data set to catalog.yml and BOOM, it’ll be serialized to disk or your cloud data store. This makes it super easy to build up the pipeline: you work on one node, commit it, execute it, and save the results. It also comes in handy when working on a team. I can run an expensive node on a big GPU machine and save the results to S3, and another team member can simply start from there. It’s all baked in.
  • Code Re-usability: I’ll admit I have never re-used a notebook. At best I pulled up an old one to remind myself how I achieved some complex analysis, but even then I had to remember the intricacies of the data. The isolation of nodes, however, makes it easy to re-use them. Also, Kedro’s support for modular pipelines (i.e., packaging a pipeline into a pip package) makes it simple to share common code. We’ve created modular pipelines for common tasks such as image processing.

The Bad

While Kedro has solved many of the quality challenges in experimental data pipelines, we have noticed a few gotchas that required less than elegant work arounds:

  • Incremental Dataset: This support exists for reading data, but it’s lacking for writing datasets. This affected us a few times when we had a node that would take 8-10 hours to run. We lost work if the node failed part of the way through. Similarly, if the result data set didn’t fit in memory, there wasn’t a good way to save incremental results since the writer in Kedro assumes all partitions are in memory. This GitHub issue may fix it if the developers address it, but for now you have to manage partial results on your own.
  • Pipeline Growth: Pipelines can quickly get hard to follow since the input and outputs are just named variables that may or may not exist in the data catalog. Kedro Viz helps with this, but it’s a bit annoying to switch between the navigator and code. We’ve also started enforcing name consistency between the node names and their functions, as well as the data set names in the pipeline and the argument names in the node functions. Finally, making more, smaller pipelines is also a good way to keep your sanity. While all of these techniques help you to mentally keep track, it’s still the trade off you make for coding the pipelines by naming the inputs and outputs.
  • Visualization: This isn’t really considered much in Kedro, and is the one thing I’d say notebooks still have a leg up on. Kedro makes it easy for you to load the Kedro context in a notebook, however, so you can still fire one up to do some visualization. Ultimately, though, I’d love to see better support within Kedro for producing a graphical report that gets persisted to the 08_reporting layer. Right now we worked around this by making a node that renders a notebook to disk, but it’s a hack at best. I’d love better support for generating final, highly visual reports that can be versioned in the data catalog much like the intermediate data.


So am I a Kedro convert? Yah, you betcha. It replaces the spider-web of bash scripts and Python notebooks I used to use for my experimental data pipelines and model training, and enables better collaboration among our teams. It won’t replace a fully productionalized stream-based data pipeline for me, but it absolutely makes sure my experimental pipelines are maintainable, reproducible, and shareable.