As the pace at which artificial intelligence (AI) models are being constructed and inevitably updated starts to increase, it’s becoming more apparent that the pace at which data science teams are currently experimenting also needs to dramatically quicken.
Many data science teams today are fortunate if they manage to successfully deploy two AI models in a production environment over the course of 12 months. It’s already apparent, however, thanks in part to the rise of digital business transformation, that there are potentially hundreds of use cases for AI models within each enterprise IT environment. Truth be told, it’s hard to envision an application being developed today that would not incorporate one or more AI models. The challenge is, the demand for AI capabilities is now far outpacing the ability of data science teams to deliver.
The best way to solve this issue is to recognize that AI models and the components employed to construct them are, in reality, just another kind of software artifact. In fact, the need to accelerate the development of applications using artifacts is largely a problem already solved. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the time has come to apply what we already know to the development of AI models.
The Rise of GitOps-Based Processes
Modern software development teams today routinely make use of Git-based repositories to share code and collaborate. These repositories are jam-packed with vetted software artifacts that development teams continuously reuse via an opinionated instance of a DevOps workflow based on a set of GitOps best practices.
As a subset of DevOps, a GitOps workflow enables data science teams to employ a Git repository that already exists within their software development environment to manage artifacts. Git enables versions of files to be created using what is known as a Git branch. They also employ concepts known as tags (Git Tag) and remotes (where the server is located). Those three different concepts, or references, exist under the hood in Git. In fact, the entire flow is based on those concepts. When a new feature is implemented, a new branch is created and then merged into the production branch with a tag that says something like “This is a new version that needs to be deployed.”
An AI model, like any other software artifact, needs to be updated. As new data sources become available, an AI model is likely to drift beyond the parameters originally intended. A rapid change in business conditions may also require changes to an AI model. The same processes that DevOps teams apply to update any software artifact can also be applied to rapidly update an AI model. Employing a Git repository to also manage AI artifacts extends the benefits that software development teams enjoy to data science teams.
Often, organizations will have an MLOps solution to streamline AI model development that is completely separate from their DevOps tools. These solutions will have dedicated features like version tracking for data and experiments specifically for AI models. But many MLOps solutions exist in a closed ecosystem, meaning they don’t work off of existing tools like GitHub used on the DevOps side.
Also, data science teams have to separately buy, deploy, and manage these closed MLOps solutions. Going with a GitOps-oriented solution streamlines management of added MLOps tools and makes it easier for both application developers and data science teams to gain visibility into each other’s respective efforts. The end result is not just faster AI experimentation at lower cost; the likelihood that more AI models will successfully be deployed in a production environment increases dramatically.
Software and AI Teams Working Together
The convergence of DevOps and MLOps is already inevitable. The longer organizations continue to employ isolated MLOps platforms to build and deploy AI models, the more expensive it will become to meld MLOps and DevOps processes.
Data science teams are conservative by nature. The difference between success and failure often comes down to how thoroughly an AI model is validated. However, time to market doesn’t have to be sacrificed to ensure an AI model works as promised. There is no such thing as a great AI model that arrives late when rivals are racing to develop similar AI capabilities—there are only missed opportunities. Speed enabled by the reusability of artifacts that drives faster experimentation using GitOps workflows is of the essence now more than ever.