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During a virtual keynote at Google I/O 2021, Google’s developer conference, Google announced the launch in general availability of Vertex AI, a managed AI platform. It’s designed to help companies to accelerate the deployment and maintenance of AI models, Google says, by requiring nearly 80% fewer lines of code to train a model versus competitive platforms.

Data scientists often grapple with the challenge of piecing together AI solutions, creating a lag time in model development and experimentation. In a recent Alation report, a majority of respondents (87%) pegged data quality issues as the reason their organizations failed to implement AI. That’s perhaps why firms like Markets and Markets anticipate that the data prep industry, which includes companies that offer data cataloging and curation tools, will be worth upwards of $3.9 billion by the end of 2021.

To tackle the challenges, Vertex brings together Google Cloud services for AI under a unified UI and API. Vertex lets customers build, train, and deploy machine learning models in a single environment, moving models from experimentation to production while discovering patterns and anomalies and making predictions.

“Vertex was designed to help customers with four things,” Google Cloud AI product management director Craig Wiley told VentureBeat in an interview. “The first is, we want to help them increase the velocity of the machine learning models that they’re building and deploying. Number two is, we want to make sure that they have Google’s best-in-class capabilities available to them. Number three is, we want these workflows to be highly scalable. … And then number four is, we want to make sure they have everything they need for appropriate model management and governance.

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“Ultimately, the goal here is to figure out how we can accelerate companies finding ROI with their machine learning.”

Fully managed AI

Vertex offers access to the MLOps toolkit used internally at Google for computer vision, language, conversation, and structured data workloads. MLOps, a compound of “machine learning” and “information technology operations,” is a newer discipline involving collaboration between data scientists and IT professionals with the aim of productizing machine learning algorithms.

Vertex’s other headlining features include Vertex Vizier, which aims to increase the rate of experimentation; Vertex Feature Store, which lets practitioners serve, share, and reuse machine learning features; and Vertex Experiments, which helps with model selection. There’s also Vertex Continuous Monitoring and Vertex Pipelines, which support self-service model maintenance and repeatability.

Customers including L’Oréal-owned ModiFace and Essence are using Vertex for production models, Google says. According to Jeff Houghton, ModiFace’s COO, Vertex allowed the company to create augmented reality technology “incredibly close to actually trying the product in real life.” As for Essence, SVP Mark Bulling says that Vertex is enabling its data scientists to quickly create new models based on changes in environments while also maintaining existing models.

“Once your model’s in production, the world is constantly changing, and so the accuracy of these models is constantly degrading over time. You have to keep track of your model and understand how it’s performing, and be ready to respond if it starts performing in a way that doesn’t meet expectations,” Wiley said. “We’re really excited about Vertex because this set of capabilities with MLOps really feels like it’s starting to deliver on some of the promises that we made back when we said, ‘Click a button, and you’ll have your model in production.’  Because now it’s, ‘Click a button, you’ll have your model on production, and using these tools, you’ll be able to gain the full value of that model when it is in production.'”

Gartner projects the emergence of managed services like Vertex will cause the cloud market to grow 18.4% in 2021, with cloud predicted to make up 14.2% of total global IT spending. “As enterprises increase investments in mobility, collaboration, and other remote working technologies and infrastructure, growth in public cloud [will] be sustained through 2024,” Gartner wrote in a November 2020 study. MLOps alone is expected to become a nearly $4 billion segment by 2025.

Google is among those reaping the windfall benefits. In its most recent earnings report, the company said that its cloud division brought in $4.047 billion in sales for the first quarter of 2021, up 46% from the year prior.

Wiley says that Vertex will continue to evolve in response to customer feedback. “Vertex offers a series of tools dedicated specifically to data scientists, machine learning professionals, and developers who want to efficiently deploy their machine learning. I would expect further development an innovation for that kind of data scientist customer would exist under the Vertex brand,” he said.

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