MLOps Blog

ML Model Packaging [The Ultimate Guide]

8 min
18th May, 2023

Have you ever spent weeks or months building a machine learning model, only to later find out that deploying it into a production environment is complicated and time-consuming? Or have you struggled to manage multiple versions of a model and keep track of all the dependencies and configurations required for deployment? If you’re nodding your head in agreement, you’re not alone. Machine learning model packaging is crucial to the machine learning development lifecycle. Getting it right can mean the difference between a successful deployment and a project that may never see the light of day.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key concepts, challenges, and best practices for ML model packaging, including the different types of packaging formats, techniques, and frameworks. So, let’s dive in and discover everything you need to know about model packaging in machine learning.

What is model packaging in machine learning?

What is model packaging in machine learning?
What is model packaging in machine learning? | Source

Model packaging is a process that involves packaging model artifacts, dependencies, configuration files, and metadata into a single format for effortless distribution, installation, and reuse. The ultimate aim is to simplify the process of deploying a model, making the process of taking it to production seamless.

Why is model packaging important in machine learning?

Machine learning models are built and trained in a development environment, but they are deployed and used in a production environment, which often has different requirements and constraints. Model packaging ensures a machine learning model can be easily deployed and maintained in a production environment.

Proper model packaging ensures that a machine learning model is:

  1. Easy to install: A well-packaged model should be straightforward to install, reducing the time and effort required for deployment.
  2. Reproducible: Model packaging ensures that the model can be easily reproduced across different environments, providing consistent results.
  3. Versioned: Keeping track of multiple model versions can be difficult, but model packaging makes it easier to version models, track changes, and roll back to previous versions if needed.
  4. Documented: Good model packaging includes clear code documentation that helps others understand how to use and modify the model if required.

Challenges of creating a model package

While model packaging can make it easier to deploy machine learning models into production, it also presents unique challenges, such as the following.

Model complexity

One of the biggest challenges in model packaging is the model’s complexity. As machine learning models become more sophisticated, they become more difficult to package. This can be especially challenging when dealing with large models with many layers or complex architectures. 

  • When packaging a machine learning model, it’s essential to consider the various components of the model, such as the weights, configuration files, dependencies, and other artifacts. With complex models, this can be a daunting task, as there may be a large number of these components to package and manage. 
  • Another challenge is that the complexity of the model can make it more difficult to deploy and run in a production environment. For example, a complex model may require a large amount of computational resources to run, making it difficult to deploy on a smaller server or in a cloud environment. 
  • Additionally, the complexity of the model can make it more difficult to debug and troubleshoot issues that may arise during deployment or use.

Environment diversity

Machine learning models may need to be deployed in various environments, such as cloud-based platforms, mobile devices, or edge devices, each with unique requirements and constraints. For example, a model designed for use on a mobile device may need to be optimized for performance and memory usage, while a model deployed on a cloud-based platform has room for additional computational resources. This diversity of environments poses a challenge regarding flexibility and portability, as models need to be packaged in a way that allows them to be easily deployed and used in various environments. 

It’s essential to consider the specific needs of each environment when packaging the model, as failing to do so could result in suboptimal performance or even complete failure. Therefore, planning for and addressing these challenges early in the model packaging process is crucial to ensure machine learning models’ successful deployment and operation in various environments.

Collaboration across teams

Machine learning models result from collaborative efforts among teams with different skill sets and expertise. These teams may include but are not limited to data scientists, software developers, machine learning engineers, and DevOps engineers. However, this collaborative process can often pose challenges regarding model packaging. 

Each team may use different tools, programming languages, and procedures, making it difficult to package the model consistently across all groups. Moreover, miscommunication between teams can lead to errors, inconsistencies, and delays in the packaging process, further exacerbating the problem.

Dependency management

To function properly, machine learning models often rely on various external libraries, frameworks, and tools. Ensuring that all required dependencies are installed and working correctly can be difficult, especially when working with large and complex models. These dependencies can be a source of compatibility issues, and it is vital to ensure that all dependencies are correctly managed when packaging the model. 

  • One of the critical issues with dependency management is version compatibility. Different versions of libraries and frameworks may have various dependencies or may not be compatible, which can lead to runtime errors or unexpected behavior. Thus, it is essential to carefully manage the versions of all dependencies to ensure that the model works as expected in the deployment environment. 
  • Another challenge with dependency management is installing and configuring all dependencies correctly, and this can be a time-consuming and error-prone process, especially if many dependencies have complex configurations.

Best practices for ml model packaging

Here is how you can package a model efficiently.

Addressing model complexity

Simplify the model architecture

One approach to dealing with model complexity is simplifying the model architecture. This can involve reducing the number of layers or using simpler activation functions. A simpler architecture can make it easier to package the model and reduce the computational resources required to run the model.

Use transfer learning

Transfer learning is a technique where a pre-trained model is used as the starting point for a new model. By using a pre-trained model, you can reduce the complexity of the new model and make it easier to package and manage. Additionally, transfer learning can reduce the training data required for the new model, which can be beneficial in situations where training data is scarce.

Modularize the model

Another approach to dealing with model complexity is modularization. This involves breaking the model down into smaller, more manageable components. For example, Modularizing a natural language processing (NLP) model for sentiment analysis can include separating the word embedding layer and the RNN layer into separate modules, which can be packaged and reused in other NLP models to manage code and reduce duplication and computational resources required to run the model. Modularizing the model makes it easier to experiment with different components of the model, such as swapping out different word embedding or RNN modules to see how they affect the model’s performance.

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MLOps Problems and Best Practices

Addressing model environments


Illustration of ONNX (Open Neural Network Exchange)
ONNX (Open Neural Network Exchange) | Source

ONNX (Open Neural Network Exchange), an open-source format for representing deep learning models, was developed by Microsoft and is now managed by the Linux Foundation. It addresses the challenge of model packaging by providing a standardized format that enables easy transfer of machine learning models between different deep learning frameworks. 

Since various deep learning frameworks use different formats to represent their models, using models trained in one framework with another can be challenging. ONNX resolves this issue by providing a standard format that multiple deep learning frameworks, including TensorFlow, PyTorch, and Caffe2 can use. 

With ONNX, models can be trained in one framework and then easily exported to other frameworks for inference, making it convenient for developers to experiment with different deep learning frameworks and tools without having to rewrite their models every time they switch frameworks.  It can execute models on various hardware platforms, including CPUs, GPUs, and FPGAs, making deploying models on various devices easy.

Use Tensorflow serving

TensorFlow Serving is one of the frameworks for deploying trained TensorFlow models to production, and it helps address model packaging challenges by providing a standardized way to serve models in production. With TensorFlow Serving, developers can efficiently serve their trained models on any platform (such as cloud-based platforms as well as on-premise) and at scale(as it is designed to handle a large number of requests simultaneously). 

Tensorflow provides a standardized API for serving TensorFlow models optimized for production environments. It also provides features like model versioning, load balancing, and monitoring, making it easier to manage models in production.

Addressing collaboration

It’s important to establish clear communication channels, standardize tools and procedures, collaborate early and often, document everything, and adopt agile development methodologies. Clear communication helps to prevent miscommunication, delays, and errors while standardizing tools and procedures ensures consistency across all teams. 

Collaboration should start early in the model packaging process, and all teams should be involved in the design and development stages of the project. Documentation is critical to ensure that all teams can access the same information and collaborate effectively. By following these best practices, teams with different skill sets and expertise can create a well-packaged machine-learning model that meets the project’s goals and requirements.

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To enhance collaboration and address model packaging challenges, offers user roles management and a central metadata store. The platform can assign specific roles to team members involved in the packaging process and grant them access to relevant aspects such as data preparation, training, deployment, and monitoring. 

Workspace management and user roles in
Roles in a workspace | Source

Neptune’s central metadata store can help keep track of the packaging process and provide information like training data, hyperparameters, model performance, and dependencies. Leveraging these features ensures information access and streamlines the packaging process.

Collaboration in
Collaboration in Neptune | Source

Addressing dependency management

Package dependencies separately

When packaging a machine learning model, it’s important to consider the dependencies required to run the model. Dependencies can include libraries, frameworks, and other artifacts. To make it easier to manage the dependencies, you can package them separately from the model. This can make installing and running the model easier in different environments. 

Machine learning practitioners often use virtual environments, creating a separate environment with specific versions of dependencies for each project. Some machine learning frameworks, such as Conda and TensorFlow Addons, offer built-in dependency management tools. To address dependency management challenges, it’s crucial to understand the dependencies required for the model clearly and to document them thoroughly. Testing the model in different environments is also important to ensure all dependencies are correctly managed, and the model functions as intended.

Use containerization

Containerization is a technique where an application and all its dependencies are packaged together into a portable and reproducible unit known as a container. This approach can make it easier to package and manage a machine-learning model and ensure it runs consistently across different environments without compatibility issues. Additionally, containerization can make deploying the model in a cloud environment easier. We will discuss this in detail in the next section.

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Containerization to the rescue!

Containerization technologies such as Docker and Kubernetes have revolutionized how developers and organizations package, deploy, and manage applications. These technologies have become increasingly popular in recent years because they provide a convenient way to package and distribute applications without worrying about dependencies and infrastructure. The popularity of containerization technologies has also extended to the field of machine learning (ML), where developers can use them to package and deploy ML models.

What are the benefits of using containerization?

There are several benefits of using containerization technologies such as Docker and Kubernetes to package ML models. Some of these benefits include:

  1. Portability: ML models packaged using Docker or Kubernetes can be easily moved between different environments, such as development, testing, and production. This allows developers to test their models in different environments and ensure they work correctly before deployment.
  2. Scalability: Docker and Kubernetes provide a scalable platform for deploying ML models. Developers can deploy their models on a cluster of servers and use Kubernetes to manage the resources needed for training and inference.
  3. Consistency: Containerization technologies ensure that ML models run consistently across different environments, eliminating the need to worry about dependencies and infrastructure.
  4. Reproducibility: Docker and Kubernetes allow developers to package all the dependencies required for their ML models, making it easy to reproduce the environment used for training and inference.
  5. Security: Containers provide a secure environment for running ML models, preventing access to sensitive data and minimizing the risk of attacks.


Docker is a containerization technology that allows developers to package applications and their dependencies into a single container. Each container is isolated from other containers and provides a consistent environment for running the application. Docker uses a client-server architecture, where the Docker client communicates with the Docker daemon to build, run, and manage containers. A Dockerfile is used to define the configuration of the container, including the base image, dependencies, and commands to run the application.

Graph with Docker architecture
Docker architecture | Source

ML model packaging using Docker

To package an ML model using Docker, follow these steps:

  1. Create a Dockerfile: Define the configuration of the container in a Dockerfile. The Dockerfile should include the base image, dependencies, and commands to run the ML model.
  2. Build the Docker image: Use the Dockerfile to build a Docker image. The Docker image contains the ML model and all its dependencies.
  3. Push the Docker image to a registry: Push the Docker image to a Docker registry, such as Docker Hub or Amazon ECR. The registry provides a centralized location for storing and sharing Docker images.
  4. Pull the Docker image from the registry: Pull the Docker image from the registry to any environment where the ML model needs to be deployed, such as a development, testing, or production environment.
  5. Run the Docker container: Use the Docker image to run a Docker container. The container provides a consistent environment for running the ML model, including all its dependencies.

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Kubernetes is a container orchestration platform that provides a scalable and automated way to deploy and manage containers. Kubernetes uses a master-slave architecture, where the master node manages the cluster’s state, and the worker nodes run the containers. Kubernetes uses a YAML file called a manifest to define the desired state of the cluster, including the number of replicas, resources, and services.

Graph with Kubernetes components
Kubernetes components | Source

ML model packaging using Kubernetes

To package an ML model using Kubernetes, follow these steps:

  1. Create a Dockerfile: Define the configuration of the container in a Dockerfile, as described in the previous section.
  2. Build the Docker image: Use the Dockerfile to build a Docker image, as described in the previous section.
  3. Push the Docker image to a registry: Push the Docker image to a Docker registry, as described in the previous section.
  4. Create a Kubernetes manifest: Define the desired state of the Kubernetes cluster in a YAML file called a manifest. The manifest should include the Docker image, the number of replicas, resources, and services.
  5. Apply the manifest: Use the kubectl command-line tool to apply the manifest to the Kubernetes cluster. Kubernetes will automatically create and manage the containers running the ML model.

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In summary, machine learning model packaging is a crucial step in the machine learning workflow that involves preparing and deploying models in various production environments. To package a model effectively, it’s important to consider several key points, such as model complexity, environment diversity, dependency management, and team collaboration. Standardizing tools and procedures, documenting everything, and adopting agile development methodologies can also help overcome challenges posed by collaboration across teams. 

However, as technology continues to evolve, future considerations for ML model packaging, such as the following, must be taken into account. 

  • Privacy and Security: As more sensitive data is used in the development of ML models, the need for privacy and security considerations in ML model packaging is becoming increasingly important. To ensure that sensitive data is not exposed, encryption and other security measures should be considered when packaging ML models. Additionally, the development of privacy-preserving ML techniques, such as differential privacy and federated learning, may also have an impact on how models are packaged in the future.
  • Efficiency: Efficiency in model packaging refers to the ability to package models in a lightweight and optimized manner, to reduce the size of the model and increase the speed of deployment. Future advancements in compression algorithms and model optimization techniques will have a significant impact on how models are packaged in the future.

Resources for Further Learning:

  • MLOps Community: The MLOps community is a group of professionals and practitioners focused on the operationalization of ML models. The community provides resources and events for learning about the latest trends and best practices in ML model packaging and many other areas.

As machine learning (ML) models become increasingly popular, the need for efficient and scalable packaging solutions continues to grow. This article was an attempt to help you navigate that space without losing your way to the end goal i.e. a successful and seamless model deployment. I hope that this attempt was indeed a successful one. 

Apart from what we discussed here, staying up-to-date on the latest trends in ML model packaging by being involved in forums and communities like the MLOps community can help you even more. Thanks for reading, and keep learning!


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