AutoML decoded: the ultimate guide and tools comparison

Tue, Apr 9, 2024

The quest for efficient and user-friendly solutions has led to the emergence of a game-changing concept: Automated Machine Learning (AutoML). AutoML is the process of automating the tasks involved in the entire Machine Learning lifecycle, such as data preprocessing, feature engineering, model selection, and hyperparameter optimization. It aims to make Machine Learning easier to understand, faster to prototype, and more effective, for a broader range of people, including experienced data scientists but also professionals with limited knowledge in the field.

In this blog post, we will explore the dynamic world of AutoML, highlighting its advantages, as well as the challenges and limitations it presents. Moreover, we will delve into an exploration and comparison of the most notable tools in this domain.

For the sake of comparison, we will use Computer Vision tasks to guide our evaluation. This will provide a concrete, illustrative example through which we can compare and evaluate the capabilities of different AutoML providers. This decision, however, should not be seen as limiting the scope of our analysis strictly to the realm of Computer Vision. Instead, it acts as a lens, offering clarity and insight into the broader landscape of AutoML tools.

Advantages of AutoML

Advantages of AutoML illustrated.

AutoML covers every section of the end-to-end Machine Learning pipeline, from data preparation and feature engineering to model selection, hyperparameter tuning, performance evaluation, and even some aspects of model deployment. By automating these complex tasks, more people and businesses can gain access to this technology without understanding the underlying algorithms.

Low entry barrier for non-experts

Building on this democratization effort, AutoML's user-friendly approach empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds, such as business analysts, domain experts, and decision-makers. AutoML removes the need for in-depth knowledge of algorithms, coding languages, or intricate model tuning and the collaboration flourishes, opening up new avenues for innovation in industries where data-driven decision-making was once limited to a select few.

Enables businesses without dedicated Data Science teams

While we don't recommend entirely disposing of a Data Science team, this can benefit particularly small businesses, where establishing a dedicated team presents resource challenges. AutoML becomes a game-changer, enabling businesses to harness Machine Learning capabilities with the reduced necessity for a specialized team. This reduces costs and accelerates the integration of Machine Learning into everyday operations.

AutoML proves to be essential not only for beginners but also for advanced data scientists. Even experts can benefit from its time-saving capabilities, allowing them to focus on strategic aspects like problem framing, domain understanding, and interpreting model outputs.

Speeding up model development

The time-intensive nature of manual Machine Learning tasks often hinders models’ rapid development and deployment. AutoML addresses this challenge by expediting model development through quick prototyping and experimentation. Automation enables the exploration of various algorithms and configurations, facilitating the identification of optimal models in a fraction of the time it would take through traditional methods. The combination of automation and ensemble also enhances the adaptability to complex relationships within the data that are challenging for a single model to capture comprehensively, even in some cases yielding better performance than any single model on its own.

Efficient use of time

AutoML platforms efficiently navigate the vast search space of potential models and configurations, allowing data scientists and practitioners to focus on higher-level tasks, such as interpreting results and refining strategies. This aspect enhances the overall efficiency of the Machine Learning pipeline.


Challenges and limitations of AutoML

While AutoML brings forth a paradigm shift in democratizing Machine Learning, it is crucial to acknowledge and address the challenges that accompany this transformative technology.

Challenges and limitations of AutoML illustrated.

Handling domain-specific knowledge

Although it's designed to be user-friendly, AutoML tools may struggle to incorporate domain-specific knowledge effectively. Understanding the intricacies of a specific industry or problem often requires human intuition and expertise. Integrating domain-specific insights into the automated processes of data preprocessing, feature engineering and model selection, remains challenging, as it involves capturing nuanced patterns and context that may be beyond the scope of automated algorithms. In our experience, the most accurate models combine hand-coded domain-specific features derived from expert knowledge in the field with automated model exploration, parameterization, and ensembling. It’s a perfect case of human-machine collaboration.

Limited customization

AutoML platforms often prioritize simplicity and generalization to cater to a broad audience. However, this emphasis on ease of use may limit the degree of customization available to advanced users. Tailoring models to specific needs or integrating proprietary algorithms can be challenging within the constraints of some AutoML frameworks, potentially restricting their adoption in specialized domains.

Interpretability and explainability

As AutoML systems become more sophisticated, the interpretability and explainability of the generated models become critical concerns. Understanding why a particular model makes a specific prediction is essential, especially in domains where decisions have significant consequences. The inherent complexity of some automated models may make it challenging to provide clear explanations, raising ethical and practical concerns in applications where transparency is crucial and, in many cases, requiring additional tools to deduce what may be going on inside the black box.

There are also challenges and limitations associated with efficiently using resources. The extreme simplification of the development process achieved with AutoML often results in over-complex and heavier-to-maintain model architectures.

Training and prediction time

AutoML might still require a considerable amount of computational resources and time. In most cases, manual model development with carefully chosen configurations will outperform or match the performance of automated solutions in reduced training time.

Some highly complex models generated by AutoML processes may have longer prediction times, especially if they involve deep neural networks. It's essential to strike a balance between model complexity and deployment efficiency, considering applications’ specific needs.

Resource intensive

Certain models selected by AutoML may be resource-intensive, particularly on RAM/VRAM and computationally expensive during training and prediction phases. It's important to assess whether the chosen model is aligned with the available computational resources and meets the necessary criteria for prediction time.

Costs might be another challenge since training and running AutoML models tend to be more expensive than simpler models. In the long run, this could be an issue due to the scaling and accumulated cost of the resources over time.

AutoML tools evaluation

Choosing the right AutoML tool for your specific needs becomes increasingly crucial. This comprehensive dimensional analysis delves into key aspects that can guide your evaluation of AutoML tools. Each dimension provides valuable insights into the capabilities and limitations of the tools, enabling you to make an informed decision tailored to your requirements. Although other factors, such as accuracy or overall performance, could also be considered, they require a deeper analysis for a future review.

As stated at the beginning of this blog post, Computer Vision will serve as our comparative framework. This choice allows us to systematically analyze and highlight the strengths and limitations of different AutoML providers. The findings, primarily grounded in the field of Computer Vision, are meant to guide choices across a range of potential use cases, providing a broad perspective on selecting and utilizing AutoML tools in various scenarios.

DimensionKey aspects
Support for vision tasksEvaluate range of supported tasks like segmentation, pose estimation, and identify limitations.
CustomizationExamine flexibility in providing custom code and declarative changes to training behavior.
Ease of useAnalyzing how accessible the tool can be for users who do not have high expertise in Machine Learning model development.
CostAnalyze the cost associated with the utilization of each tool.
Data managementEvaluate capabilities for labeling, collaboration, assistance mechanisms, and EDA support.
Production readinessAssess the ability to export model files, create production-ready endpoints, and avoid vendor lock-in.
MLOps readinessExplore the capability to create end-to-end pipelines, monitor performance, and support continuous training.
Community and supportConsider active community presence, availability of official support, and developers' background.
DocumentationEvaluate the comprehensiveness and clarity of available documentation.

Tools comparison

Below, you can see the comparative ratings for the different tools. As you can see, a star-based scale was used, where a higher number of stars indicates a better comparative performance in that dimension.

Comparative table of AutoML tools for computer vision comparison.

Did we miss a standout tool or feature? Don't be shy - drop us a message with your recommendations!



AtoGluon logo.

AutoGluon is a free and open-source Python library that can handle diverse datasets, including images, text, and tabular data. With an emphasis on simplicity, Autogluon delivers integrated support for automatic deployment to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem while operating in a cloud context, along with a smooth local execution experience.

When it comes to flexibility and customization, AutoGluon is an excellent choice. This tool supports a wide range of vision tasks, including object detection, image classification, image-image matching, image-text semantic matching and semantic segmentation. Additionally, AutoGluon's hyperparameter tuning capabilities, along with its data augmentation settings, allow users to fine-tune their models for optimal performance.

However, there are also limitations to consider. AutoGluon lacks specific features related to labeling and data analytics. Additionally, MLOps functionalities, such as monitoring or model tracking, are not covered. Users may need to rely on other tools to fulfill these needs.

Furthermore, it is important to note that AutoGluon operates as a Python library, which requires some coding skills. This characteristic makes it less codeless compared to other alternatives in the market.

Vertex AI AutoML

Vertex AI logo.

As part of Google Cloud's Machine Llearning platform, Vertex AI AutoML stands out for its user-friendly approach, allowing users to train different types of data for Machine Learning applications without requiring coding and using a carefully developed interface to make it intuitive and easy to use.

A major strength of Vertex AI AutoML is its seamless integration with Google Cloud's infrastructure, optimizing Machine Learning workflows for efficiency and scalability. Deploying models to production within the Google environment is streamlined, and the platform offers an array of tools for MLOps, including model versioning and monitoring pipelines for continuous integration.

While Vertex AI AutoML provides a range of vision tasks, including object detection and classification for images, as well as video data tasks like action recognition, classification, and object tracking, it does have certain limitations. Users may find that their use cases are somewhat restricted, leading them to explore alternative solutions for greater flexibility in model development.

An important final consideration is that the platform relies heavily on the Google environment, which could be a limitation if your infrastructure is on another cloud provider, or you don't want to depend on a specific cloud provider to develop and deploy your Machine Learning service. This service runs on the cloud; therefore, it is important to thoughtfully consider the associated costs. The pricing structure depends on the model type and running time.

H2O Driverless AI

H20 Driverless AI logo.

Driverless AI builds upon the strengths of the H2O.ai open-source platform, offering a simplified development experience through its user-friendly interface.

This tool has a codeless interface and offers high levels of customization and adaptability. Users can choose to use Python for further customization and it provides a variety of configuration options to fine-tune models. Furthermore, the tool includes data augmentation capabilities and a comprehensive explainability toolkit. These features are highly valuable for understanding and improving the quality of the model.

From the perspective of limitations, it primarily caters to classification and regression tasks and lacks extensive support for vision-related functionalities. Moreover, it falls short in areas such as continuous training, model versioning, and monitoring within a production environment.

Microsoft Azure AutoML

Microsoft Azure AutoML logo.

Being an integral part of the Azure platform, Azure AutoML simplifies the transition from model development to production, offering seamless integration with MLOps practices. Tasks such as putting models into production, automatic retraining, and monitoring are streamlined within the Azure ecosystem.

One of the notable advantages of Azure AutoML is its flexibility in catering to both code-first and no-code experiences. This allows users to choose an approach that aligns with their preferences and expertise.

The tool has extensive capabilities, especially in the field of Computer Vision tasks. It supports multi-class image classification, multi-label image classification, object detection, and instance segmentation. Additionally, the platform provides customization features that enable users to customize the search space of model hyperparameters, including options such as model architectures, learning rates, optimizers, and more options.

However, there are certain limitations to consider. While Azure AutoML supports data augmentation for Computer Vision tasks, users have limited control over the specific transformations applied. The platform applies predefined transformations based on the task, with minimal flexibility for users to fine-tune or customize these augmentations according to their specific requirements.

Finally, it is important to consider the cost associated with each use case and the potential reliance on the Azure environment that may come with this proprietary solution built on the Azure cloud.


Roboflow logo.

One of the primary strengths of Roboflow is its specialization in Computer Vision, offering comprehensive functionalities for annotation and preprocessing. The platform's user-friendly interface makes data augmentation a straightforward process, allowing users to effortlessly select and apply transformations with a simple click. Roboflow supports a wide range of Computer Vision tasks, including object detection, classification, instance segmentation, semantic segmentation, and keypoint detection.

Notably, Roboflow stands out for its ease of use, providing a Python API and a web interface for users to create datasets, upload data, modify annotations, split datasets, and add preprocessing and augmentation transformations with minimal effort. During the training process, users can monitor metrics such as loss and accuracy in real time, estimate training times, and receive email notifications upon job completion.

However, users should be aware of the associated costs, as while free plans are available, there are also paid plans with additional features. As of the information available, Roboflow lacks features related to continuous training, model monitoring, and model versioning, which may be essential for certain use cases and workflows.


Ludwig logo.

Ludwig is an open-source Machine Learning platform that primarily focuses on LLMs (Large Language Models), but it also covers other domains like Computer Vision and predictive modeling. Ludwig stands out with its key features of being low code, declarative, and highly customizable. It is designed to facilitate Machine Learning tasks with minimal coding, providing a user-friendly experience while offering significant flexibility in customization.

Ludwig presents several advantages for users. It supports a variety of data augmentation transformations, such as horizontal and vertical flip, rotation, blur, brightness, and contrast. Users enjoy complete freedom in selecting and applying these transformations based on their specific needs. The platform's high degree of customization extends beyond data augmentation, allowing users to set hyperparameters for optimization and define search spaces for hyperparameter tuning.

However, it is important to remember that while low-code, the tool still requires a basic understanding of programming to be used effectively.

Unlike some other platforms, Ludwig does not provide labeling solutions. Users are required to handle this aspect separately. Additionally, Ludwig does not have built-in functionalities for model versioning, continuous training, or monitoring of deployed models. Users may need to supplement Ludwig with additional tools or practices to address these aspects of the Machine Learning lifecycle.

Sage Maker Canvas

Sage Maker Canvas logo.

Amazon SageMaker Canvas simplifies Machine Learning for users with limited coding skills by offering a no-code interface and exploratory data analysis (EDA) features. These capabilities allow users to visually explore data before model building, leading to informed decisions about feature engineering and model selection.

A key strength of the platform, particularly for AWS infrastructure users, is its seamless integration with the AWS environment. This facilitates easy model deployment and leverages the scalability and reliability of AWS services. Furthermore, SageMaker Canvas extends beyond the modeling stage, offering MLOps tools for labeling, reproducibility, automation, and monitoring.

However, it's important to note that SageMaker Canvas may not be the best choice for complex Computer Vision tasks. The platform only offers image classification functionalities, which may not be sufficient for a wide range of Computer Vision scenarios. Additionally, the expected cost of this service should be considered depending on the intended use case.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the emergence of AutoML represents a significant advancement in the accessibility of Machine Learning, allowing a wider audience to leverage the potential of AI. However, it is important to acknowledge that while AutoML is a valuable tool, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and its effectiveness varies depending on the specific use case.

Furthermore, the market offers a wide variety of tools that cater to different needs. In the Computer Vision domain, industry leaders such as Vertex AI, Azure AutoML, and Sage Maker Canvas provide platform-like solutions prioritizing seamless integration and easy deployment.

On the other hand, more specialized tools like H2O and Roboflow offer user-friendly interfaces without being tied to a specific cloud service provider. Additionally, free and open-source low-code tools like Ludwig and AutoGluon are available, allowing users to engage in model development with simplicity and customization.

Ultimately, it's about selecting the tool that best matches your needs to fully embrace the extensive benefits AutoML offers. If this discussion has sparked your interest and you're curious about how AutoML can be tailored to the unique needs of your organization or business, we're here to help. Reach out to us to discover how these cutting-edge technologies can drive innovation, efficiency, and growth in your projects.

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