Solutions for FOSS ML

This section presents the most widespread, mature and promising open source ML software available. The purpose of this section is just to make you curious to maybe try something that suits you.

ML software comes in many different forms. A lot can be written on the differences on all packages below, the quality or the usability. Truth is however there is never one best solution. Depending your practical use case you should make a motivated choice for what package to use.

As with many other evolving technologies in heavy development: Standards are still lacking, so you must ensure that you can switch to another application with minimal pain involved. By using a real open source solution you already have taken the best step! Using OSS makes you are far more independent than using ML cloud solutions. This because these work as ‘black-box’ solutions and by using OSS you can always build your own migration interfaces if needed. Lock-in for ML is primarily in the data and your data cleansing process. So always make sure that you keep full control of all your data and steps involved in the data preparation steps you follow. The true value for all ML solutions are of course always the initial data sources used.

Open Machine Learning Frameworks

There are a number of stable and production ready ML frameworks. But choosing which framework to use depends on the use case. If you want to experiment with the latest research insights implemented you will make another choice than if you need to implement your solution in production into a critical environment. For business use: So doing innovation experiments and creating machine learning application most of the time you want a framework that is stable and widely used.

If you have an edge use case experimenting with different frameworks can be a valid choice.

PyTorch is dominating the research, but is now extending this success to industry applications. TensorFlow is already used for many production business cases. But as it is with all software: Transitions from major versions (from TensorFlow 1.0 to 2.0) is difficult. Interoperability standards to easily switch from ML framework are not mature for production use yet.

Choosing a machine learning (ML) framework or library to solve your use case is easier said than done. Selecting a ML Framework involves making an assessment to decide what is right for your use case. Several factors are important for this assessment for your use case. E.g.:

  • Easy of use;

  • Support in the market. Some major FOSS ML Frameworks are supported by many consultancy firms. But maybe community support using mailing lists or internet forums is sufficient to start.

  • Short goal versus long term strategy. Doing fast innovation tracks means the cost for starting from scratch again should be low. But if you directly focus on a possible production deployment, whether on premise or using cloud hosting this can significantly delay startup time. Often it is recommended to experiment fast and in a later phase take new requirements like maintenance and production deployment into account.

  • Research of business use case. Some ML frameworks are focussed on innovation and research. If your company is not trying to develop a better ML algorithms this may not be the best ML framework for experimenting for business use cases.

  • Closed (Commercial) dependencies. Some FOSS frameworks have a dependency with a commercial data collection. E.g. many translation frameworks need an API key of Google or AWS to function. All costs aspects of these dependencies should be taken into account before starting. There is nothing wrong with using commercial software, but transparency on used data sets and models can be crucial for acceptance of your machine learning application.

A special-purpose framework may be better at one aspect than a general-purpose. But the cost of context switching is high:

  • different languages or APIs

  • different data formats

  • different tuning tricks

Your first model for experimenting should be about getting the infrastructure and development tools right. Simple models are usually interpretable. Interpretable models are easier to debug. Complex model erode boundaries beware of the CACE principle (CACE principle: Changing Anything Changes Everything)