TensorFlow Estimators: Managing Simplicity vs. Flexibility in High-Level Machine Learning Frameworks


We present a framework for specifying, training, evaluating, and deploying machine learning models. Our focus is to simplify writing cutting edge machine learning models in a way that enables bringing those models into production. Recognizing the fast evolution of the field of deep learning, we make no attempt to capture the design space of all possible model architectures in a DSL or similar configuration. We allow users to write code to define their models, but provide abstractions that guide developers to write models in ways conducive to productionization, as well as providing a unifying Estimator interface, a unified interface making it possible to write downstream infrastructure (distributed training, hyperparameter tuning, …) independent of the model implementation.

We balance the competing demands for flexibility and simplicity by offering APIs at different levels of abstraction, making common model architectures available “out of the box”, while providing a library of utilities designed to speed up experimentation with model architectures. To make out of the box models flexible and usable across a wide range of problems, these canned Estimators are parameterized not only over traditional hyperparameters, but also using feature columns, a declarative specification describing how to interpret input data.

We discuss our experience in using this framework in research and production environments, and show the impact on code health, maintainability, and development speed.