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Intel Optimized Data Science Virtual Machine on Microsoft Azure*

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Authors: Mattson Thieme, Ravi Panchumarthy, Prashant Shah

In response to the surge in popularity of AI and machine learning, Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) have begun providing virtual machines (VMs) specialized for these applications. However, the default offerings usually contain unoptimized machine learning frameworks that do not leverage the Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions 512 (Intel® AVX-512) instruction set for faster vector operations on Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. To address this, Intel has collaborated with Microsoft to build the Intel Optimized Data Science Virtual Machine (DSVM), an extension of the Ubuntu* version of Azure* DSVMs with CPU-optimized conda environments for TensorFlow* and MXNet*. These optimized environments require no modification to existing TensorFlow or MXNet code, and provide an average of 7.7X speedup over unoptimized environments (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Intel® Optimization for TensorFlow provides an average of 7.7X increase (average indicated by the red line) in training throughput on major CNN topologies. Performance results are based on testing as of 01/15/2019 by Intel. Please see complete testing configuration in disclaimers. To run your own benchmarks using tf_cnn_benchmarks, see
In this article, we’ll outline three easy steps to launch an Intel Optimized DSVM of your own. Before getting started, make sure you’ve created an Azure account and can access To create an account, see

Step 1

Choose the Intel Optimized Data Science VM for Linux

  1. Once your account is created, navigate to In the top left, select “Create a resource”, search “Intel Optimized Data Science VM for Linux”, then click “Create” at the bottom of the screen:

Step 1. Choose the Intel Optimized Data Science VM for Linux

Step 2

Follow prompts to configure the DSVM parameters. Once you’ve clicked Create, you’ll be prompted to set some parameters:

  1. Virtual machine name: Name the VM.
  2. Username and password: Passwords simplify connecting to the VM.
  3. Subscription: Make sure the appropriate subscription is selected.
  4. Resource group: Select an existing resource group.
  5. Location: The default region should work just fine or choose your desired location.

When completely filled out, clicking OK will advance to the next screen, where you can select the VM size:
Clicking the VM size allows you to change the hardware on which your VM will run. We recommend the following instances powered by Intel Xeon Scalable processors to take advantage of Intel AVX-512:

  1. Compute Optimized: Fsv2-series (F4sv2, F8sv2, F16sv2, F32sv2, F64sv2, F72sv2)
  2. High Performance Compute: HC-series

Step 3

Once you’ve selected a size, clicking OK will begin the Validation step, and you’ll be able to see a summary of your VM:
intel.web.1072.603.pngClicking OK again brings you to the final screen. Click Create to launch the instance.


Log In and Run Benchmarks:

Once the VM is launched, a custom extension triggers the one-time installation of Intel optimized deep learning frameworks (installation takes ~10 minutes). After launch, log in to the machine as usual and run conda env list. The bolded environments are optimized for execution on Intel® Xeon® processors:
azuser@vmname:~$ conda env list

# conda environments:
base                     /data/anaconda
intel_mxnet_p27          /data/anaconda/envs/intel_mxnet_p27
intel_mxnet_p36          /data/anaconda/envs/intel_mxnet_p36
intel_tensorflow_p27     /data/anaconda/envs/intel_tensorflow_p27
intel_tensorflow_p36     /data/anaconda/envs/intel_tensorflow_p36
py35                  *  /data/anaconda/envs/py35
py36                     /data/anaconda/envs/py36

To verify the presence of Intel® Math Kernel Library for Deep Neural Networks (Intel® MKL-DNN), activate an optimized environment and run the following:

azuser@vmname:~$ source activate intel_tensorflow_p36
(intel_tensorflow_p36) azuser@vmname:~$ echo "MKL shared libs: $(ldd $(pip show tensorflow | grep Location | cut -d ":" -f2)/tensorflow/ | grep libmklml)"
MKL shared libs: => /data/anaconda/envs/intel_tensorflow_p36/lib/python3.6/site-packages/tensorflow/../_solib_k8/_U@mkl_Ulinux_S_S_Cmkl_Ulibs_Ulinux___Uexternal_Smkl_Ulinux_Slib/ (0x00007f27e241f000)
(intel_tensorflow_p36) azuser@vmname:~$ python -c "import tensorflow as tf; print(tf.pywrap_tensorflow.IsMklEnabled())"

If you would like to run TensorFlow* CNN training benchmarks, download the benchmark script and run as indicated (Note: do not activate an optimized virtual environment before running the benchmark, this is taken care of in the script).

azuser@vmname:~$ wget
azuser@vmname:~$ bash
######### Executive Summary #########
Environment |  Network   | Batch Size | Images/Second
Default     | inception3 |     128     | 6.44
Optimized   | inception3 |     128     | 52.00
Average Intel Optimized speedup = 8X

Training throughput in the Default and Optimized environments is listed per network and batch size. By default, the script runs Inception* V3 at a batch size of 128. If you would like to run the entire suite of CNN networks (Inception V3, ResNet* 50, ResNet 152, VGG*-16) and batch sizes (32, 64, 128), pass “all” as the first argument to the benchmarking script. Note that this option will take some time.

azuser@vmname:~$ bash all


Get started using the Intel Optimized Data Science VM for Linux on Microsoft Azure to accelerate your own deep learning workloads, and visit our framework optimizations site for additional information on leveraging Intel® MKL-DNN optimizations for deep learning on Intel® Architecture. You can also learn more about this new offering on the Microsoft Azure blog.

Notices and Disclaimers

Software and workloads used in performance tests may have been optimized for performance only on Intel microprocessors.

Performance tests, such as SYSmark and MobileMark, are measured using specific computer systems, components, software, operations and functions. Any change to any of those factors may cause the results to vary. You should consult other information and performance tests to assist you in fully evaluating your contemplated purchases, including the performance of that product when combined with other products. For more complete information, visit

1. Testing Configuration:

Azure Instance Size: F72s_v2
Architecture: x86_64
CPU op-mode(s): 32-bit, 64-bit
Byte Order: Little Endian
CPU(s): 72
On-line CPU(s) list: 0-71
Thread(s) per core: 2
Core(s) per socket: 18
Socket(s): 2
NUMA node(s): 2
Vendor ID: GenuineIntel
CPU family: 6
Model: 85
Model name: Intel(R) Xeon(R) Platinum 8168 CPU @ 2.70GHz
Stepping: 4
CPU MHz: 2693.855
BogoMIPS: 5387.73
Virtualization: VT-x
Hypervisor vendor: Microsoft
Virtualization type: full
L1d cache: 32K
L1i cache: 32K
L2 cache: 1024K
L3 cache: 33792K
NUMA node0 CPU(s): 0-35
NUMA node1 CPU(s): 36-71

Performance results are based on testing as of 01/15/2019 by Intel and may not reflect all publicly available security updates. No product or component can be absolutely secure.

Intel technologies’ features and benefits depend on system configuration and may require enabled hardware, software or service activation. Performance varies depending on system configuration. No computer system can be absolutely secure. Check with your system manufacturer or retailer or learn more at

ptimization Notice: Intel's compilers may or may not optimize to the same degree for non-Intel microprocessors for optimizations that are not unique to Intel microprocessors. These optimizations include SSE2, SSE3, and SSSE3 instruction sets and other optimizations. Intel does not guarantee the availability, functionality, or effectiveness of any optimization on microprocessors not manufactured by Intel. Microprocessor-dependent optimizations in this product are intended for use with Intel microprocessors. Certain optimizations not specific to Intel microarchitecture are reserved for Intel microprocessors. Please refer to the applicable product User and Reference Guides for more information regarding the specific instruction sets covered by this notice.

Notice Revision #20110804

Intel, the Intel logo, and Xeon are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries. *Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

8/31/23 Edits: Authors edited or added.

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