guillaume blaquiere
Sep 5 · 5 min read

AI-Platform is a Google Cloud Platform (GCP) service which propose tools and serverless compute for ML pipeline. You can share, build, train and serve models in full serverless way on GCP, or wherever your want on your Kubernetes cluster thanks to Kubeflow project. You only have to focus on your business, on your model and your data processing/transformation.

Machine Learning pipeline has internal and external parts. Internally, your data-scientists can share, build and train/hypertune models, with GPU, TPU and much more features. Using a single platform for this internal process is more efficient, and AI-Platform is really great for that.

The external/visible part of ML pipeline is for end-user: the prediction serving part. AI-Platform is also very convenient for deploying models on GCP: easy, quick, serverless, “pay-as-you-use”. Sounds perfect…

But the trend is to multi-cloud, hybrid deployment or not vendor lock-in, with, most of time, common keywords: container.

What’s the challenge?

I would like to leverage of container portability, and of serverless prediction serving like with AI-Platform.

The problem is that AI-Platform is Google specific and kubeflow isn’t serverless. Here comes Knative, on top of Kubernetes, which propose to build and serve with serverless experience for developers. GCP proposes a managed implementation of Knative: Cloud Run. You can run serverless stateless container.

I only used TensorFlow 1.x for building my model, and I will speak about it. However, AI-Platform supports more frameworks

Build a Cloud Run/Knative compliant container

Where to start ? AI-Platform do all, I don’t know what is done, how it’s processed. It’s the magic part of serverless, but also the most confusing: you don’t know what is really done!

How a TensorFlow model is serving ?

TensorFlow Extended (TFX) is a part of TensorFlow for building end-to-end ML pipeline. One of the components is TensorFlowServing. Hmm, sounds good for my problem. Let’s go deeper.


TensorFlowServing component is a binary to install on linux environment to serve TensorFlow models. This binary start a server with gRPC and RestAPI endpoint, on 2 different ports. Thereby, provide the model and the 2 ports, that’s all, your model is served! Far easier than expected!

In bonus, there is also a Docker image. Nothing to install, just run the image! Perfect it will be easy to run it on Cloud Run!!

Let’s try it and read the documentation. To run the container, you have to run this command

docker run -t --rm -p 8501:8501 \
-v "$TESTDATA/saved_model_half_plus:/models/half_plus_two" \
-e MODEL_NAME=half_plus_two \
tensorflow/serving &

First issue: you have to mount a volume into the container with the model for serving it. This breaks the stateless part of contract.

No problem, with docker, you can use this TensorFlowServing docker image as base image and build something on top of this. For example, something like that:

  • Copy model into the container
  • Set the model folder as MODEL_NAME variable.
FROM tensorflow/serving
COPY tf_models /models/tf_models
ENV MODEL_NAME tf_models

Simple! Your model is embedded in your container, the env var is defined. And, inherited from base image, the tensorflow/serving image automatically run this command

tensorflow_model_server --port=8500 --rest_api_port=8501 \
--model_name=${MODEL_NAME} \

Second issue: The server don’t listen on the $PORT environment variable of Cloud Run/Knative, and it’s not customizable.

Finally, it’s not possible to use built-in TensorFlowServing docker image with Cloud Run/Knative: contracts aren’t respected.

Build TensorFlowServing custom image

Thereby, we have to build a TensorFlow serving image compliant with Cloud Run/Knative by ourselves.

For this, we have to write a Dockerfile, let’s start with a Ubuntu Xenial image

FROM ubuntu:xenial

Install TensorFlowServing

RUN apt update && \apt-get install -y curl && \echo "deb stable tensorflow-model-server tensorflow-model-server-universal" | tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/tensorflow-serving.list && \curl | apt-key add - && \apt update && \apt-get install tensorflow-model-server

Copy the model to serve

COPY exporter /models/tf_models

Run the tensorflow_model_server with the right parameters

CMD tensorflow_model_server --port=8500 --rest_api_port=${PORT} --model_base_path=/models/tf_models --model_name=consumption

That’s all. Docker build, Docker run, it’s working.

Potential issue: it’s not possible to deactivate the gRPC port (here 8500, default value). If Cloud Run/Knative $PORTvalue is set to gRPC port value, the container start will fail

Integrate with AI-Platform training step

Great, container is built! But, there is a breach between the training on AI-Platform and the serving container:

How to retrieve the trained model?

Indeed, I never mention how the model was retrieve after the training. For this, I wrote a cloudbuild.yaml for using Cloud build with the existing Cloud Builders.

The first step retrieve the model from Google Cloud Storage with gsutil command: thus, models are available for being copied in the container. Then, build and push the container with docker command.

- name: ''
args: [ 'cp', '-r', '${_EXPORT_BUCKET}', '.' ]
- name: ''
args: [ 'build', '-t', '$PROJECT_ID/predict', '.' ]
- name: ''
args: ['push', '$PROJECT_ID/predict']
- '$PROJECT_ID/predict'
_EXPORT_BUCKET: gs://my-bucket/path/to/export/exporter

Now the breach is filled. The trained model is exported to Google Cloud Storage, and get at the build stage of the container.

Great! Job done, you have a portable container for serving your trained model. Now, you can deploy it and predict where you want!

Deploy on Cloud Run

All the hard work is done. Time to test and to deploy on GCP serverless container platform: Cloud Run.

First, deploy on Cloud Run

gcloud beta run deploy predict --image<PROJECT_ID>/predict

Then perform a request with an instances.json file (in relation with your model)

curl -X "content-type: application/json" -X POST -d @instances.json https://predict-<hash>

And boom, here the prediction

"predictions": [
"predicted": [5.77138042]

Portable and serverless

Packaging TensorFlowServing into a custom container compliant with Knative contracts is awesome. The container is can be ran anywhere, on Knative, on Kubernetes, on a VM, on Cloud, on Premise,… You can leverage of your ML models where you want!

In addition, you can also use it with Cloud Run which is a great product for running stateless and serverless container. Serving a serverless prediction model fits perfectly to Cloud Run capabilities and what it has been designed for.

However, if you stay on GCP, what is the advantage to use Cloud Run instead of AI-Platform ? Both platforms are serverless and both perform online prediction but AI-Platform requires no additional development for serving the model. So, is it a good idea to use Cloud Run? I will address this topic in a next article.

Code example is available here

Google Cloud Platform - Community

A collection of technical articles published or curated by Google Cloud Platform Developer Advocates. The views expressed are those of the authors and don't necessarily reflect those of Google.

guillaume blaquiere

Written by

Team leader, scrum master, speaker, writer and polyglot developer, Google Cloud platform certified, serverless addict and Go fan.

Google Cloud Platform - Community

A collection of technical articles published or curated by Google Cloud Platform Developer Advocates. The views expressed are those of the authors and don't necessarily reflect those of Google.

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