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Distributed Machine Learning Frameworks and its Benefits

Jagreet Kaur | 17 May 2023

Introduction to Distributed Machine Learning

With the advent of big data technologies and an explosion in the amount of data available, it has been possible to train highly sophisticated and complex machine learning and deep learning models with millions or even billions of parameters trained on terabytes of data. Training models of such size are impossible to achieve in a single model as they would not fit in the memory, nor will they have enough computing power for the training. Thus, training such models becomes impossible via conventional means, and we need something else to support such a memory-intensive task. Distributed Machine Learning is one of the solutions to this problem.

What is Distributed Machine Learning?

Distributed machine learning is a subset of machine learning that utilizes numerous computing resources, most often computers or servers, to carry out complex machine learning tasks. It makes handling and analyzing massive amounts of data possible since it divides the computational workload among several processors, enabling quicker and more effective processing. Divides the data into smaller groups that are analyzed concurrently, and the outcomes are integrated to provide a final output. Distributed Machine Learning aims to decrease the time and expense needed for data processing and analysis while enhancing machine learning algorithms' scalability, speed, and efficiency.

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Parallel Processing for Distributed Machine Learning

A single machine or personal laptop can no longer satisfy the requirements to train a sizeable machine-learning model with a more significant amount of data. One possible solution is Distributed Machine Learning, where we distribute the tasks and perform them parallelly. Algorithms are deployed across multiple processors in a distributed processing framework; a typical ML algorithm involves a lot of computation (work/tasks) on many data sets.

Distributed Computing

Machine learning and deep learning are workloads for computers that deal with mathematical operations such as matrix algebra and optimization on large-scale data. To build complex models that generalize well, we need more data to train such models on, and this necessitates adopting one of the paradigms of increasing computational capabilities mentioned above.

For decades, we could train more complex statistical and machine learning models by scaling up the computer itself—increasing the number of cores on a computer, the amount of memory, and so on—to build such models faster.

The other way of training such models is by increasing the number of agents that perform these computations in parallel rather than in series. What's more, with some clever code that allows you to coordinate between different tasks on a computer network, you can crunch some large datasets using what are unremarkable machines in themselves but many of them. Distributed computing accomplishes this in data science, ML, and DL. It allows what would otherwise be time-consuming and unproductive long tasks to become shorter because of the parallelization of such data processing tasks. It does so without taxing enterprises to invest in high-end hardware as often, which can be many times more expensive than many mainstream machines connected over a network connection.

Distributed Model Training

In distributed machine learning, model training is performed with a method called distributed model training to train a large neural network model over several computers or machines. It entails dividing the model and training data among several computers and training each split separately.

Data parallelism and model parallelism are the two basic approaches that may be used to implement distributed model training.

Parallelism in data and models has both benefits and drawbacks. Because data parallelism needs less connection between computers, it is more frequently utilized for training big neural network models. However, it could experience delayed convergence rates because machine gradients vary greatly. On the other hand, models that are too huge to fit into the memory of a single computer may benefit more from model parallelism. However, because machines often swap model parameters, they may have significant communication costs.

Data Parallelism

The data is divided depending on the number of worker nodes present in the system. The same procedure is used by all workers on various data partitions. A single coherent output results from having the exact model available to all worker nodes (either through centralization or replication). This presupposes that data samples are distributed as i.i.d. (independently and identically), which is valid for most ML methods. In this approach:

  1. We partition the data into n parts, where n is the total number of workers in the compute cluster that are accessible.  
  2. Each worker node contains a copy of the model, and each one trains the model using a different subset of the data.
  3. Either synchronously or asynchronously, training loops are run.

Model Parallelism

Model parallelism is a machine learning approach for distributing a neural network model over several computers or computing devices. The neural network model's parameters are divided across several machines in model parallelism, enabling each machine to process a piece of the input data and determine the appropriate output. 

When the neural network model is too huge to fit into the memory of a single computer, model parallelism is often utilized. The memory requirements for each computer are decreased by splitting the model across numerous machines, enabling bigger models to be trained.

The input data is often divided among several computers in model parallelism, with each unit processing a portion of the data. The result is created by combining the output from each machine. Data parallelism, another Distributed Machine Learning approach, is frequently used with model parallelism to boost the effectiveness of large-scale machine learning operations.

To guarantee that communication between computers is adequate and that the model is partitioned in a way that reduces the quantity of data that must be sent between machines, model parallelism requires careful design and optimization. Model parallelism may be helpful for large-scale neural network model training in distributed machine learning settings with careful design and optimization.

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Distributed Machine Learning Algorithms

Distributed machine-learning algorithms are designed to distribute the computation and communication required to train a machine-learning model across multiple machines in a cluster. Some commonly used distributed machine learning algorithms:

  • Parameter server: The weights and biases of a machine learning model are distributed to many computers in a cluster using the parameter server approach. A copy of the model is stored on each computer in the cluster, and a centralized parameter server manages modifications to the model.
  • AllReduce: To synchronize the model weights across all computers in a cluster, the AllReduce method is utilized. Using a portion of the training data, each computer calculates the model's gradient and distributes it to the other machines. The gradients are then combined using the AllReduce method, which also updates the model weights on each computer.
  • MapReduce: Distributed machine learning tasks are frequently carried out using the MapReduce method, a general-purpose distributed computing tool. Data is initially divided into manageable portions via MapReduce, which are then processed concurrently across numerous processors. The final product is created by combining and reducing the findings.
  • Stochastic gradient descent (SGD): The optimization approach stochastic gradient descent (SGD) is widely employed in machine learning. SGD is frequently applied decentralized in distributed machine learning, with each machine computing the model's gradient using a portion of the training data.
  • Alternating least squares (ALS): Alternating least squares (ALS) is a matrix factorization method frequently used in collaborative filtering systems like recommendation systems. By distributing the computation across several machines in a cluster, ALS is used in distributed machine learning to factorize enormous matrices.

Distributed Machine Learning Frameworks

Distributed machine learning frameworks effectively distribute machine learning activities over several computers or workstations. A collection of tools and APIs are offered by these frameworks for creating and deploying distributed machine learning models. Following are a few of the well-liked DML frameworks:

  • Apache Spark MLlib: The Apache Spark MLlib distributed computing framework offers many tools and APIs for handling sizable datasets concurrently over a cluster of computer machines. On top of Spark, the Spark MLlib package offers several distributed machine learning algorithms and tools.
  • TensorFlow: A software library for dataflow and differentiable programming used for various tasks is called TensorFlow. It features built-in support for distributed training and is frequently used to construct and train deep neural networks.
  • PyTorch: Deep neural networks are frequently created and trained using PyTorch's open-source machine learning framework. It offers assistance for utilizing the torch—distributed package for dispersed training.
  • Horovod: An open-source distributed training framework for TensorFlow, Keras, PyTorch, and MXNet is called Horovod. It offers assistance for practical distributed training over several GPUs and nodes.
  • Apache Mahout: A suite of scalable machine learning algorithms for clustering, classification, and collaborative filtering are provided by Apache Mahout, a distributed machine learning platform.
  • Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (CNTK): The Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (CNTK) is an open-source deep learning framework that supports distributed training over multiple GPUs and workstations.
  • H2O.ai: Using scalable techniques for machine learning, deep learning, and artificial intelligence, H2O.ai is an open-source distributed machine learning platform.

These Distributed Machine Learning frameworks offer practical resources for creating and implementing massive machine-learning models. These frameworks can increase the scalability, effectiveness, and accuracy of machine learning tasks by taking advantage of distributed computing's advantages.

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Cloud Platforms for Distributed Machine Learning

Cloud giants like AWS, Microsoft, Google, etc., have invested significant resources and time in developing cloud platforms for distributed machine learning.

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Sagemaker: Build, train, and deploy machine learning models at scale with ease with Amazon SageMaker, a fully managed service. It supports both bespoke algorithms as well as a variety of built-in algorithms and frameworks, including TensorFlow and Apache MXNet. SageMaker also has tools for model development, deployment, and data labeling.
  • Microsoft Azure Machine Learning: The cloud-based service Microsoft Azure Machine Learning offers resources for creating, honing, and deploying machine learning models. It provides a variety of frameworks and tools, including well-known ones like TensorFlow and PyTorch. Azure Machine Learning also provides data preparation, model training, and model deployment functions.
  • Google Cloud Machine Learning Services: Google Cloud offers various machine learning services, including Google Cloud ML Engine, Google Cloud AutoML, and Google Cloud TPU. While Google Cloud AutoML offers a variety of tools for automating the machine learning process, Google Cloud ML Engine is a fully managed service for developing and deploying machine learning models. A specialized hardware accelerator for training machine learning models, Google Cloud TPU.
  • Databricks: Another well-known cloud computing platform supporting distributed machine learning is Databricks. An integrated analytics platform for distributed machine learning is offered by the cloud-based platform Databricks. The prominent open-source distributed computing technology Apache Spark is used upon which the platform is based. Various tools for data processing, machine learning, and data visualization are available from Databricks, which also interacts with well-known machine learning frameworks like TensorFlow, PyTorch, and scikit-learn.

Distributed Machine Learning using MLlib with Spark

One popular and tested method of Distributed ML is using MLlib with Spark, a popular distributed computing framework. Distributed Machine Learning (DML) utilizing MLlib and Spark is an effective combo for complex machine-learning tasks. While Spark is a distributed computing platform for handling massive datasets, MLlib is a library developed on top of Spark that offers a set of distributed machine learning methods and tools.

Developers may create distributed machine learning applications in Python, Scala, Java, and R by combining MLlib with Spark. Regression, classification, clustering, and collaborative filtering are just a few algorithms included in MLlib. These methods are appropriate for large-scale machine learning problems because they are distributed computing optimized.

Utilizing MLlib with Spark has several benefits, including the flexibility to scale up or down the processing resources needed for a machine-learning activity. Spark offers a cluster manager that dynamically assigns computing resources according to the task's requirements, enabling resource efficiency and cost savings.

Developers often create code in one of the supported programming languages and send it to a Spark cluster for execution to use MLlib with Spark. Instructions for loading data into the cluster, preparing the data, choosing and setting the best machine-learning method, and assessing the model's performance are frequently included in the code.

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Benefits of Distributed Machine Learning

Distributed Machine Learning brings a framework to train and deploy machine learning models in a distributed fashion, making it possible to create large models with complex architectures. Distributed Machine Learning has several benefits:

  • Fault Tolerance and Reliability: With tools to automatically find, isolate, and fix errors, distributed machine learning systems are built to manage failures graciously. The system's performance is unaffected by any one machine's failure because the computation is spread over numerous machines. Distributed Machine Learning is hence more trustworthy and fault-tolerant than conventional single-machine methods.
  • Efficiency: Distributed machine learning is faster and more effective than conventional machine learning techniques that rely on a single machine since it allows for the parallel analysis of big datasets. It can process big datasets in a tenth of the time needed by single-machine techniques by utilizing multiple computing resources.
  • Scalability: Large datasets that cannot be processed on a single machine can be processed using distributed machine learning. Distributed machine learning is a scalable method for large-scale data processing because the computer resources needed to process the dataset also grow.
  • Cost Effectiveness: Traditional single-machine approaches may sometimes be more cost-effective than distributed machine learning. Organizations can employ numerous inexpensive machines to execute the same activities rather than spending money on a single high-performance system. For large-scale machine learning initiatives, this can result in significant cost savings.

Challenges for Distributed Machine Learning

Designing a distributed machine learning system aims to address various engineering and mathematical challenges.

From an engineering perspective, DML systems must be designed to handle high speeds, volumes, and low footprints of data and provide fault tolerance and efficient use of computational resources. Additionally, complicated data storage, transmission, and synchronization across several processing nodes must be managed by distributed systems.

Distributed Machine Learning systems must deal with issues including synchronization of distributed update equations, convergence to local or global optimum, and distribution of ML models among various nodes from a mathematical standpoint. Because distributed systems may only sometimes have access to all data at once and various nodes may have somewhat different models depending on their subset of data, ensuring the convergence of the model during distributed training is a significant difficulty.

Distributed machine learning introduces several challenges that must be addressed to design and implement scalable and reliable DML systems effectively. Some of the common challenges associated with DML include:

Data Distribution

The data in DML is divided into sections and distributed among several computer nodes. Data distribution may therefore provide difficulties, such as choosing a suitable partitioning strategy, guaranteeing data consistency, and effectively sharing data across nodes.

Model distribution: The machine learning model must be spread among several computational nodes in addition to the data distribution. As a result, preserving model integrity, synchronizing model changes, and reducing communication overhead may become challenging.

Fault Tolerance

If one or more computational nodes in a distributed system fail, the system may also fail. To ensure that the system can continue to work even if one or more nodes fail, DML systems must be fault tolerant.


To accommodate higher data volumes, DML systems must be able to grow horizontally by adding extra compute nodes. As a result, issues with load balancing, resource allocation, and network congestion may arise.

Consistency and Synchronization

In DML systems, numerous compute nodes can do calculations and updates concurrently. This may provide synchronization and consistency difficulties, such as ensuring updates are performed in the correct sequence and upholding consistency among various nodes.

Communication Overhead

One of the main bottlenecks in DML systems is communication between computer nodes. Achieving effective and scalable DML requires minimizing communication overhead and optimizing communication patterns.


A heterogeneous mix of computing nodes with various hardware setups and processing powers may be present in distributed systems. This might provide problems with load balancing, work scheduling, and ensuring the system runs smoothly on all nodes.

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Real-world Applications of Distributed Machine learning

Distributed computing has many use cases across different industries and applications, including in the following areas:

  • Automatic Speech Recognition: Distributed machine learning may be used to train voice recognition models, which can then be applied to automate call centers, create virtual assistants, and translate languages. Distributed computing is used by businesses like Amazon, Google, and Apple to train voice recognition models that power their virtual assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. These models must be trained on enormous volumes of data and distributed computing makes it possible to handle this data concurrently across several workstations, cutting down on the training time.
  • Image Recognition: Distributed machine learning may be used to train image recognition models, which can be used for tasks like autonomous driving, imaging in the medical field, and facial recognition. For instance, a cluster of 50 workstations was used to train Google's Inception architecture for image recognition.
  • Natural Language Processing: Distributed machine learning may be used to train natural language processing models, which can then be used for tasks like sentiment analysis, chatbots, and language translation. For its language translation capability, Facebook, for instance, trains NLP models using the distributed computing platform PyTorch.
  • Customer Relationship Management: Distributed machine learning may be used to train voice recognition models, which can then be applied to automate call centers, create virtual assistants, and translate languages. Distributed computing is used by Salesforce, a top customer relationship management (CRM) software supplier, to process and analyze customer data for their Einstein AI platform. Real-time insights and predictions about client behavior are made possible by this, and these insights may be leveraged to tailor marketing efforts and raise customer happiness.
  • Financial Fraud Detection: Distributed machine learning may be used to train image recognition models, which can be used for tasks like autonomous driving, imaging in the medical field, and facial recognition. Visa employs a distributed computing platform called Apache Spark to analyze real-time transactions and find fraudulent behavior. Visa can rapidly find trends and abnormalities that point to fraud by processing massive amounts of transaction data across several workstations with Spark.
  • Commercial Activities: Distributed machine learning may be used to train natural language processing models, which can be used for tasks like sentiment analysis, chatbots, and language translation. By forecasting demand and maximizing inventory throughout its network of locations, Walmart employs distributed computing to optimize its supply chain. The business uses a technology called Eden, which is based on Apache Hadoop and allows for the simultaneous processing of enormous amounts of data across several workstations. In a similar manner to this, Amazon employs distributed computing to optimize prices for its e-commerce platform. It uses machine learning models trained on enormous quantities of data to do this.
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Distributed machine learning is critical for training large-scale machine learning models on massive datasets. By leveraging the power of distributed computing, organizations can significantly reduce the time and cost required to train models while improving their solutions' accuracy and scalability. However, designing and implementing effective distributed machine learning solutions requires careful consideration of the specific requirements of the application, as well as the trade-offs involved in balancing performance, scalability, and cost. With the increasing availability of powerful distributed machine learning frameworks and cloud-based computing resources, organizations of all sizes can leverage this technology to drive innovation and achieve new performance levels in various applications.