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Riccardo Grigoletto
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Software Engineer
Article updated on

Distributed ML Experiments on Databricks with Maggy

May 13, 2021
10 min
Riccardo Grigoletto
Riccardo Grigolettolink to linkedin
Software Engineer


Maggy is an open-source framework that simplifies writing and maintaining distributed machine learning programs. By encapsulating your training logic in a function, the same code can be run unchanged with Python on your laptop or distributed using PySpark for hyperparameter tuning, data-parallel training, or model-parallel training. With the arrival of GPU support in Spark 3.0, PySpark can be now used to orchestrate distributed deep learning applications in TensorFlow and PySpark. We are pleased to announce we have now added support for Maggy on Databricks, so training machine learning models with many workers should be as easy as running Python programs on your laptop.


Machine Learning is going to be distributed, as Andrew Ng calls it, Data-centric AI. Data volumes are constantly increasing, and models are known to improve their prediction accuracy predictably - so companies can often know what return they will get in terms of more accurate models by simply investing in collecting more training data. One of the main challenges for developers is to switch from programming for a single-machine to programming for a distributed cluster.

That's why we developed Maggy (, an open source Python library that introduces a new unified framework for writing core ML training logic as oblivious training functions. By encapsulating your training logic in a Python function (we call it an oblivious training function), the same code can be run unchanged in Python or PySpark. You don’t need to rewrite your code to do hyperparameter tuning, data-parallel training, or model-parallel training.

Maggy can be extremely useful in the case you want to build a distributed ML solution but you have no prior experience of distributed computing.  It is enough to just refactor your training code to wrap it inside a function (this is good development practice, in case you didn’t know) and let Maggy do the distribution magic for you.

Furthermore, it is not important whether you use Tensorflow or PyTorch as Maggy supports both of them. Scikit-Learn and XGBoost are also supported, and are used, in particular, for parallelizing hyperparameter tuning over many workers.

Maggy on Databricks

In the following example, we use Maggy to train a Neural Network on the Iris dataset.

The first thing we have to do  is to create a cluster on your Databricks workspace. Maggy has been tested on the Databricks Runtime version 7.4 ML. Choose the number of workers you need and you are good to go.

If you don't know how to create a cluster, please follow the tutorial. If it is your first time on Databricks, make sure to get familiar with the platform and prices.

Once you created the cluster, you have to install Maggy. In order to do this, just navigate to your cluster and click Libraries, then click on Install New and PyPi, write 'maggy' as Package and Install.

Once you have installed Maggy, do the same thing with TensorFlow version 2.4 or higher. For example, on the Package field you can write 'tensorflow==2.4'.

Now we can open the Databricks notebook and write our first Maggy program.

Maggy workflow

In order to use Maggy on your workflow, we need to do the following:

  1. Create classes and functions to (a) create your model, (b) create your dataset,  and (c) define your model training logic.
  2. Pass the dataset or the dataset path, the data processing function and the hyperparameters to the configuration function of Maggy.
  3. Call the 'lagom' function of Maggy passing the training function and the configuration from the previous step.

We are now going to present an example on how to implement this workflow. We are going to distribute the training of a (very) simple machine learning model on the iris dataset.

1a. Model creation

First of all, we have to wrap our ML model in a class, the class has to be an implementation of tf.keras.Model.

It's important to note that we are not instantiating the class, we need to pass the class to Maggy, not an instance of it.

In this example we define a class called NeuralNetwork. It is a superclass of tf.keras.Sequential, an implementation of tf.keras.Model. Make sure that your class implements tf.keras.Model. Finally, we define our ML model in the init function.

     -- CODE language-bash --
from tensorflow.keras.layers import Dense
from tensorflow.keras import Sequential

# you can use keras.Sequential(), you just need to override it 
# on a custom class and define the layers in __init__()
class NeuralNetwork(Sequential):
    def __init__(self, nl=4):
        if nl >= 4:
          for i in range(0, nl-2):

model = NeuralNetwork

1b. Dataset creation

First, we need to upload the Iris dataset on Databricks, on your databricks platform, click on Data on the sidebar and then Create Table, and upload Iris.csv that can be downloaded here.

In order to use Maggy, we have to pass the training set, test set and optionally a function for data processing to the configuration file.

The training and test sets can be:

  1. A tuple like train_set = (X_train, y_train). X_train and y_train can be a list, a numpy array or a TensorFlow dataset.
  2. The path to the training and test sets. In this case, you also need to provide a data process function containing the instructions to consume and transform the data, as per the following code snippet.
    -- CODE language-bash --
def process_data(train_set_path, test_set_path):
    import pandas as pd
    import numpy as np
    from sklearn.preprocessing import LabelEncoder
    from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split

    dataset_path = "dbfs:/FileStore/tables/Iris.csv"

    train_set, test_set ="csv")\
         .option("inferSchema", "true")\
         .load(dataset_path).drop('_c0').randomSplit((0.80, 0.20), seed=0)

    raw_train_set = train_set.toPandas().values
    raw_test_set = test_set.toPandas().values

    X_train = train_set[:,0:4]
    y_train = train_set[:,4:]
    X_test = test_set[:,0:4]
    y_test = test_set[:,4:]

    return (X_train, y_train), (X_test, y_test)

1c. Create an HPO function

We now wrap the code containing the logics of your experiment in a function.

For HPO, we have to define a function that has the HPs to be optimized as parameters. Inside the function we simply put the training logic as we were training our model in a single machine using Tensorflow. Maggy will run this function multiple times using different parameters for you, as we will see in section 3a.

    -- CODE language-bash --
def hpo_function(number_layers, reporter):
  model = NeuralNetwork(nl=number_layers)
  #fitting the model and predicting
  train_input, test_input = process_data(raw_train_set, raw_test_set)

  train_batch_size = 75
  test_batch_size = 15
  epochs = 10[0], y=train_input[1],

  score = model.evaluate(x=test_input[0], y=test_input[1],                                     
                        batch_size=test_batch_size, verbose=1)
  print(f'Test loss: {score[0]}')
  print(f'Test accuracy: {score[1]}')

  return score[1]

1d. Create an oblivious training function

The training function provides the instruction to run the training and evaluation of your model, given the data passed in the configuration. You just need to wrap the instructions you implemented and eventual hyperparameters (for example the values to pass in the model constructor). The training function has to return a value or a list of values that corresponds to the evaluation results.

    -- CODE language-bash --
def training_function(model, train_set, test_set, hparams):
    model = model()
    # fitting the model and predicting


    accuracy = model.evaluate(test_set)

    return accuracy

It's important to note that in the HPO function we did not pass the model as a parameter while we did that in our oblivious training function. This is because, when using Maggy for distributed training, the library has to patch some functions of the model class.

2a. Configure Maggy for HPO

The next step is to create a configuration instance for Maggy. Since in this example we are using Maggy for hyperparameter optimization and distributed training using TensorFlow, we will use OptimizationConfig and TfDistributedConfig.

OptimizationConfig contains the information about the hyperparameter optimization.

We need to define a Searchspace class that contains the hyperparameters we want to optimize. In this example we want to search for the optimal number of layers of the neural network from 2 to 8 layers.

OptimizationConfig contains the following parameters:

  • num_trials: Controls how many separate runs are conducted during the hp search.
  • optimizer: Optimizer type for searching the hp searchspace.
  • searchspace: A Searchspace object configuring the names, types and ranges of hps.
  • optimization_key: Name of the metric to use for hp search evaluation.
  • direction: Direction of optimization.
  • es_interval: Early stopping polling frequency during an experiment run.
  • es_min: Minimum number of experiments to conduct before starting the early stopping mechanism. Useful to establish a baseline for performance estimates.
  • es_policy: Early stopping policy which formulates a rule for triggering aborts.
  • name: Experiment name.
  • description: A description of the experiment.
  • hb_interval: Heartbeat interval with which the server is polling.
    -- CODE language-bash --
from maggy.experiment_config import OptimizationConfig
from maggy import Searchspace

sp = Searchspace(number_layers=('INTEGER', [2, 8]))

hpo_config = OptimizationConfig(num_trials=4, 

2b. Run distributed HPO

Our HPO function and configuration class are now ready, so we can go on and run the HPO experiment. In order to do that, we run the lagom function, passing our training function and the configuration object we instantiated during the last step.

If you are wondering what lagom means, Lagom is a swedish word representing some cultural aspects of balance and equilibrium, in english could be translated as "just the right amount" or "less is more".

    -- CODE language-bash --
from maggy import experiment

result = experiment.lagom(train_fn=hpo_function, config=hpo_config)

This function will print the HPO summary. As you can see, there are several values returned, we are most interested in the 'best_config' dictionary, it contains the parameters for which the model performed the best.

3a. Configure distributed training

Now it's time to run the final step of our ML program. Let's initialize the configuration class for the distributed training. First, we need to define our hyperparameters, we want to take the best hyperparameters from the HPO.

TfDistributedConfig class has the following parameters:

  • name: the name of the experiment.
  • module: the model to be trained (defined in the first step of this guideline).
  • train_set: the train set as a tuple (x_train, y_train) or the train set path.
  • test_set: the test set as a tuple (x_test, y_test) or the test set path.
  • process_data: the function to process the data (if needed).

hparams: the model and dataset parameters. In this case we also need to provide the 'train_batch_size' and the 'test_batch_size', these values represent the subset sizes of the sharded dataset. It's value is usually the dataset_size/number_workers but can change depending on your needs.

    -- CODE language-bash --
from maggy.experiment_config.tf_distributed import TfDistributedConfig

#define the constructor parameters of your model
model_params = {
    #train dataset entries / num_workers
    'train_batch_size': 75,
    #test dataset entries / num_workers
    'test_batch_size': 15,
    'learning_rate': 0.04,
    'epochs': 20,
    'number_layers': result['best_config']['number_layers'],

training_config = TfDistributedConfig(name="tf_test", model=model, train_set=train_set, test_set=test_set, process_data=process_data, hparams = model_params)

3b. Run distributed training

Finally, let's run the distributed training using the lagom function.

    -- CODE language-bash --
experiment.lagom(training_function, training_config)

Maggy will run the distributed training using the number of workers and resources available to the cluster defined. Finally, it will prompt the test results. The training log can be found in the Spark UI on Databricks.

Try it now!

Maggy is open-source and everyone can contribute to the project. Feel free to experiment with the library and contact us for any questions or issues. You can reach out to us via GitHub or the hopsworks community. You can also give us a star on GitHub to let us know you appreciate our work.


In this article we saw how to train a ML model in a distributed fashion without reformatting our code, thanks to Maggy. Maggy is available on Hopsworks. If you want to know more about how to develop your ML projects faster, you may want to check out our previous blog on ML experiments with Hopsworks.


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