Azure ML Pipelines and MLOps with GitHub Actions – Part 3

As this is Part 3, you might want to review Part 1 and Part 2 for context if you haven’t yet.

In Part 3, I will finally focus on the GitHub action.

All of the code for this can be found on my GitHub.

How to run the training process from GitHub Action

To put the "Ops" in "MLOps" the pipeline execution should be automated whenever possible. The scenario being used in this repository is when code is checked in, the training pipeline is automatically kicked off from a GitHub Action and if the newly trained model has a higher accuracy than the previous model, then it will be registered in the model repository.

To review, does the training and obviously registers the model. The pipeline that runs these two steps is built and executed from So it is this (also referred to in this repository documentation as the driver script) that needs to be executed from a GitHub action.

Creating the GitHub Action

Actions allow for automation of processes. They are YAML scripts.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on YAML or the action schema, but i pulled a sample and made some modifications. Action scripts should be placed in .github/workflows directory of the repo.

name: iristrain
on: [push]
    runs-on: [ubuntu-latest]
    container: docker://dvcorg/cml-py3:latest
      - uses: actions/checkout@v2
      - name: train_pipeline
          repo_token: ${{ secrets.GITHUB_TOKEN }}
          AZUREML_SECRET: ${{secrets.AZUREML_SECRET}}
        run: |
          # Your ML workflow goes here
          pip install -r requirements.txt
          python azureml/

The above code shows that on [push] so when any code is pushed to the repository, the jobs: will be performed. Unique to this example is the environment variables env: that are all populated from GitHub secrets. They are passed into the script which is invoked with the last line of the yaml file above. Any libraries required to run the python script need to be installed first on the container therefore the pip install -r requirements.txt is there. The current requirements.txt has more than what is needed to run the script, specifically azureml-sdk is the entry required for this scenario.

Service Principal Authentication to Azure ML

Unlike building a pipeline and running it from a Jupyter notebook interactively, to use automation the credentials to login to Azure ML have to be stored. Using an Azure Active Directory user principal is the right way to do this.

Creating a service principal in Azure will likely require elevated permissions in Azure. Work with your Azure administrator to enable this.

In this notebook there is a section for Service Principal Authentication that walks through the setup. Once a service principal is created, it can be used from the script.

from azureml.core import Workspace
from azureml.core.authentication import ServicePrincipalAuthentication

svc_pr_password = os.environ.get("AZUREML_SECRET")
svc_pr = ServicePrincipalAuthentication(

ws = Workspace(

Note the heavy use of environment variables. This is to ensure that credentials and other private variables are not stored clear text in this repo for the world to see. These are being passed in from the action yaml shown above.

More comprehensive information on Azure ML authentication can be found here

GitHub Secrets

The above section highlights the environment variables being used. These variables are initiated from the GitHub repositories action secrets.

GitHub Secrets

These secrets are created in the repository from the "Settings" tab. In the "Secrets" section, click the "new repository secret" button to add a secret.

GitHub New Secret

It should be obvious that the secret names need to match the secrets given in the yaml action script: ${{secrets.AZUREML_CLIENTID}}.

Invoking the GitHub Action

Any change to the source code based on this simple action definition will invoke the which defines and then submits the iris_train_pipeline with the snip of code below.

iris_train_pipeline = Pipeline(workspace=ws, steps=[trainingScript,registerModelStep])
print ("Pipeline is built")

exp = Experiment(ws,experiment_name)

pipeline_run1 = exp.submit(iris_train_pipeline)
print("Pipeline is submitted for execution")


This will happen from master or a branch. To see the action in action, in change the n_splits from 5 to 3.

code change example

Do a commit and push. Note: I have been using VSCode. The Python editor and GitHub integration is legit!

On the Actions tab of the repo, a new action is now visible with a "yellow" icon to indicate "in progress" actions list

Click on the run to see the details in progress action

In the details section click on the run itself and the logs can be reviewed in real time. First GitHub is acquiring a container image to install the necessary python configuration to run the script. action detail 1

Once the image is acquired, it kicks off the Azure ML Pipeline which can be reviewed in Azure ML Studio action pipeline

pipeline_run1.wait_for_completion() is an important line in that keeps the script from completing until the Azure ML pipeline completes. Without this line the action will finish while the pipeline is still running. This may be desired depending on the scenario.

The logged pipeline outputs will be displayed in the run output. action complete logs

When it is complete, the status will show green. acton complete


That is it. Now your training process is fully automated based on code check in. And yes, YAML is still the most awful definition language but you have to just shut up and deal with it ūüôā

Azure ML Pipelines and MLOps with GitHub Actions – Part 1

I have been working on customer projects with Azure ML pretty regularly over the last two years. Some common challenges:

  • Microsoft highly promotes the AKS deployment for real time inference, yet most of the time customers are still looking for an effective way to do batch scoring.
  • When customers leverage Azure ML pipelines for batch processes they struggle with the concept of pushing datasets and files between steps. This erodes the true power of splitting an ML process into steps.
  • MLOps is hard and overwhelming.

This is not a “start from the beginning” blog post. This is going to assume that you have familiarity with Azure ML If you are not, the sample notebooks are seriously EXCELLENT! However, they seem to get you 90% there but miss out on implementation details that are key for success.

The scenario I am using below and can be found on my GitHub. It is an Azure Pipeline that trains several iris classification models. It picks the best one and logs it. In the next pipeline step, if that model is better than the previous training run, it will register the model. This training pipeline can be put on a schedule or it can be triggered from a code check in. In this case, from a GitHub action.

In a later blog post, i will discuss in more detail the model registration process (some production tips there) and the GitHub action, but I will start with properly passing datasets and files between steps.

Passing datasets and files between steps

Other than a few blogs I have found on the internet, instructions on how to properly pass files or datasets between steps are hard to find.


In the above image you can see that irisdata is passed into and then model_output is the output. When you define the pipeline in the driver script, the input data is a DataReference object and any data passed between steps is a PipelineData object.

from azureml.core.datastore import Datastore
from import DataReference
ds = ws.get_default_datastore()
print("Default Blobstore's name: {}".format(

dataset_ref = DataReference(
print("DataReference object created")
from azureml.pipeline.core import Pipeline, PipelineData
model_output = PipelineData("model_output",datastore=ds)
print("PipelineData object created for models")

In the PythonScriptStep, utilize the input and output parameters.

from azureml.pipeline.steps import PythonScriptStep
trainingScript = PythonScriptStep(

Simply pass the “model_output” from outputs as input to the next step (the that will be a focus of the next blog post) and so on.

Using these references in the script

When you submit a pipeline job to run, a container is created and all the files in the source_directory specified in the PythonScriptStep are imported into the container. The input and outputs effectively become mount points for blob storage to that container. In the script step this mount point is accessible via an environment variable that looks like the below.


This is also the same environment variable format used for the output location (the PipelineData object) which appears to be a randomly created storage location given to you from AzureML.

mounted_output_path = os.environ['AZUREML_DATAREFERENCE_model_output']

Looking at the mounted_output_path variable above gives a location like: mnt/batch/tasks/shared/LS_root/jobs/amlworkspacesjh/azureml/715a1dca-fafc-4899-ae78-ffffffffffff/mounts/workspaceblobstore/azureml/71ab64d9-bc4c-4b74-a5a5-ffffffffffff/model_output

You should be able to treat these environment variables as a file location just like a local path. So for the irisdata which was a csv file in the data reference you can read it like normal.

df = pd.read_csv(os.environ['AZUREML_DATAREFERENCE_irisdata'], names=column_headers)

For the model_output we pickle the model file and save it to the mounted_output_path.

pkl_filename = "model.pkl"
mounted_output_path = os.environ['AZUREML_DATAREFERENCE_model_output']
with open(os.path.join(mounted_output_path, pkl_filename), 'wb') as file:
    pickle.dump(best_model[1], file)

Now look into, we utilize the PipelineData object (model_output) as our input and reference the same environment variable as in

mounted_output_path = os.environ['AZUREML_DATAREFERENCE_model_output']
print("model path",model_output)
print("files in model path",os.listdir(path=model_output))

In the file list, model.pkl is there right where it was created in the training script.


The ability to pass data between pipeline steps is pretty easy, but the documentation on using the magic “AZUREML_DATAREFERENCE_***” environment variables is lacking in most of the sample notebooks I have found. Just remember that these are mount points and can be interacted with just like local files basically.

Up next, Part 2

The “where have I been?” footnote

It has been 21 months since my last blog post. My role at Microsoft has led me to focus much more on cloud data services for only a couple of customers. I loved to blog about Power BI but I just haven’t been in that space for awhile as my day to day responsibilities were handed over to the much more capable @notaboutthecell. I have been working a lot on real time stream processing (with Databricks / Cosmos DB / Azure Functions) and ML engineering activities with Azure ML. Blog posts have been difficult as so much of my work is implementation oriented and it is hard to recreate everything in a publicly sharable way.

Or maybe i have just been lazy ūüôā

Anyway, I am sure that the blog posts in my future are probably going to be more narrow in application and probably won’t be “marathon reads” that explain everything in detail but hopefully enough to connect the dots for the people who need it.

Regular Expressions will save your life!

I am closing out 2017 with a refreshing project that has led me away from Power BI for a bit. However, even for the Power BI community, I think the below information is valuable because at some point, you are going to run into a file that even the M language (Power BI Query Editor) is going to really have a hard time parsing.

For many of you, its still a flat file world where much of your data is being dropped via an FTP server and then you have a process that parses it and puts it in your data store. I recently was working with a file format that I have no idea why someone thought it was a good idea, but nonetheless, i am forced to parse the data. It looks like this:

display > e1
Site Name   : Chicago IL                  Seq Number     : 111
Mile Mrkr   : 304.40                      DB Index #     : 171

Direction   : South                       Arrival        : 00:02  09-22-2017
Speed In/Out: 33/18 MPH                   Departure      : 00:03:45
Slow Speed  : 38 MPH                      Approach Speed : 0 MPH
                                          Approach Length: ~0.0 Feet

Amb Temp    : 81 F                        Battery Voltage: 12.03

Axles       : 5                           Truck Length   : 56.0 Feet
Alarms      : 0                           Cars           : 1
Integ Fails : 0                           Gate A Cnt     : 1
System Warn : 0                           Gate B Cnt     : 1
Weight      : 72000
HBD Filter  : 13 Point Median Filter
Car   Axle   Weight   Ch1   Ch2
Num    Num   (LBS)    (F)   (F)   Alarms
-------------------------------------------------------------- Weight Units = LBS
  1      1    17000.0   N/A   N/A
         2    17000.0   N/A   N/A
         3    17000.0   N/A   N/A
         4    17000.0     0     0
         5    17000.0     0     0

This data simulates truck weigh-in station data. There is a lot of “header” information followed by some “line” items.

Just think for a moment how you would approach parsing this data? Even in Power BI, this would be extremely brittle if we are counting spaces and making assumptions on field names.

What if a system upgrade effecting the fields in the file is rolled out to the truck weigh stations over the course of several months? Slight changes to format, spacing, field names, etc… could all break your process.

 Regex to the Rescue

In my career as a developer, I never bothered to understand the value of regular expressions (regex). With this formatted file I now see that they can save my life (well, that may be dramatic, but they can at least save me from a very brittle pre-processing implementation)

For anyone unfamiliar with regex, a regular expression is simply a special text string for describing a search pattern. The problem is, they are extremely cryptic and scary looking and you want to immediately run away from them and find a more understandable way to solve your text string problem. For instance, a regular expression that would find a number (integer or decimal) in a long string of characters would be defined as


What the heck is that?

The “d” represents any decimal digit in Unicode character category [Nd]. If you are only dealing with ASCII characters “[0-9]” would be the same thing. The “+” represents at least one instance of this pattern followed by (.d*) which identifies an explicit dot “.” followed by another d but this time with a “*” indicating that 0 to n instances of this section of the pattern unlike the first section that required at least 1 instance of a digit. Therefore this should result in true for both 18 as well as 18.12345. However, regex are greedy by default, meaning it expects the full pattern to be matched. So without adding the “?” to the end of the string, the above regex would NOT recognize 18 as a number. It would expect a decimal of some sort. Because we have included the “?” it will end the match pattern as long as the first part of the match was satisfied, therefore making 18 a valid number.

So, the regex was 11 characters and it took me a large paragraph to explain what is was doing. This is why they are under utilized for string processing. But if you are looking at it the other way, it only took 11 characters to represent this very descriptive pattern. Way cool in my book!

Regex language consistency

My example above was from Python. As i am a “data guy”, i find Python to have the most potential for meeting my needs. I grew up on C# and Java however so understanding regex may have some slight variations between languages. Some interesting links on this are below:

Stack Overflow:

language comparison on Wikipedia:

Building a Parser using Regex

This file has all kinds of problems. Notice the value formats below:

Temperature: 81 F
Length: 56 Feet
Datetime: 00:02 09-22-2017
Time: 00:03:45
Speed: 33/18 MPH

In addition to text and numeric values, we also have to deal with these additional formats that should be treated as either numeric or datetime values.

I am going to use Python to parse this file and will use a “tokenizer” pattern discussed in the core Python documentation for the re (regex) library:¬†

This pattern will allow us to assign a “type” to each pattern that is matched so we do not have to count spaces and try to look for explicitly named values which could break with any slight modifications to the file.

Below is a function that returns a named tuple with values for the type, the value, the line, and the column it was found in the string.

import re
import collections

Token = collections.namedtuple('Token', ['typ', 'value', 'line', 'column'])

def tokenize(line):
    token_specification = [
        ('SPEED_IN_OUT',    r'(d+(.d*)?/d+(.d*)?s{1}MPH)'),  # speed with multiple values (ex. 15/10 MPH)
        ('SPEED',           r'(d+(.d*)?s{1}MPH)'),  # speed with one value (ex. 10 MPH)
        ('LENGTH',          r'(d+(.d*)?s{1}Feet)'),  # length in feet (ex. 10 Feet)
        ('TEMP',            r'(d+(.d*)?s{1}[F])'),  # Temperature in Fahrenheit (ex. 83 F)
        ('DATETIME',        r'(d+:(d+(:d)*)*)+s+(d+-d+-d+)'),  # Datetime value (ex. 00:00:00  12-12-2017)
        ('TIME',            r'(d+:(d+(:d)*)*)+'),  # time value only (ex. 00:02   or   ex.  00:02:02)  
        ('ID_W_NBR',        r'(d+(.d*)?s([/w]+s?)+)'),  # ID that is prefixed by a number    
        ('NUMBER',  r'd+(.d*)?'),  # Integer or decimal number    
        ('ID',      r'([/w]+s?)+'), # Identifiers
        ('ASSIGN',  r': '),           # Assignment operator
        ('NEWLINE', r'n'),           # Line endings
        ('SKIP',    r'[ t]+'),       # Skip over spaces and tabs
    tok_regex = '|'.join('(?P<%s>%s)' % pair for pair in token_specification)

    line_num = 1
    line_start = 0
    for match in re.finditer(tok_regex, line):
        kind = match.lastgroup
        value =
        if kind == 'NEWLINE':
            line_start = match.end()
            line_num += 1
        elif kind == 'SKIP':
            column = match.start() - line_start
            token = Token(kind, value.strip(), line_num, column)
            yield token

In my list of token specifications, i have included the most restrictive matches first. This is so that my value for “56.0 Feet” won’t be mistaken for “56.0 F” which would have it identified as a TEMP instead of LENGTH. (I should also be accounting for Celsius and Meters too but i am being lazy)

Let’s look a bit closer at a couple more of these regex.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† (‘ASSIGN’,¬† r‘: ‘),¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† # Assignment operator

The assign operator is very important as we are going to use each instance of this to identify a rule that the NEXT token value should be ASSIGNED to the previous token value. The “little r” before the string means a “raw string literal”. Regex are heavy with “” characters, using this notation avoids having to do an escape character for everyone of them.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† (‘DATETIME’,¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† r(d+:(d+(:d)*)*)+s+(d+-d+-d+)),¬† # Datetime value (ex. 00:00:00¬† 12-12-2017)

Datetime is taking the numeric pattern I explained in detail above but slightly changing the “.” to a “:”. In my file, i want both 00:00 and 00:00:00 to match the time portion of the pattern, so therefore I use a nested “*” (remember that means 0 to n occurrences). The + at the end of the first section means at least 1 occurrence of the time portion, therefore simply a date field will not match this datetime regex. Then the “s” represents single or multiple line spaces (remember that regex is greedy and will keep taking spaces unless ended with “?”). Then the last section for the date will take any integer values with two dashes (“-“) in between. This means 2017-01-01 or 01-01-2017 or even 2017-2017-2017 would match the Datetime date section. This may be something I should clean up later ūüôā

¬†¬†¬† tok_regex = ‘|’.join(‘(?P<%s>%s)’ % pair for pair in token_specification)


I wanted to just quickly point out how cool it is that Python then allows you to take the list of regex specifications and separate them with a “|” by doing the “|”.join() notation. This will result in the crazy looking regex below:

‘(?P<SPEED_IN_OUT>(\d+(\.\d*)?/\d+(\.\d*)?\s{1}MPH))|(?P<SPEED>(\d+(\.\d*)?\s{1}MPH))|(?P<LENGTH>(\d+(\.\d*)?\s{1}Feet))|(?P<TEMP>(\d+(\.\d*)?\s{1}[F]))|(?P<DATETIME>(\d+:(\d+(:\d)*)*)+\s+(\d+-\d+-\d+))|(?P<TIME>(\d+:(\d+(:\d)*)*)+)|(?P<ID_W_NBR>(\d+(\.\d*)?\s([/\w]+\s?)+))|(?P<NUMBER>\d+(\.\d*)?)|(?P<ID>([/\w]+\s?)+)|(?P<ASSIGN>: )|(?P<NEWLINE>\n)|(?P<SKIP>[ \t]+)’

Two important things were done here. We gave each specification the ?P<name> notation which allows us to reference a match group by name later in our code. Also, each token specification was wrapped with parenthesis and separated with “|”. The bar is like an OR operator and evaluates the regex from left to right to determine match, this is why i wanted to put the most restrictive patterns first in my list.

The rest of the code iterates through the line (or string) that was given to find matches in using the tok_regex expression and yields the token value that includes the kind (or type) of the match found and the value (represented as value.strip() to remove the whitespaces from beginning and end).

Evaluating the Output

Now that our parser is defined, lets process the formatted file above. We add some conditional logic to skip the first line and any lines that have a length of zero. We also stop processing whenever we no longer encounter lines with “:”. This effectively is processing all headers and we will save the line processing for another task.

lines = list(csv.reader(open('truck01.txt',mode='r'),delimiter='t'))

counter = 0
ls = []
for l in lines:

    if len(l)==0 or counter == 0:
        counter += 1

    str = l[0]
    index = str.find(":")
    if(index == -1 and counter != 0):

    for tok in tokenize(l[0]):

    counter += 1

The first few lines processed will result in the following output from the print statements (first the line, then each token in that line)

Site Name   : Chicago IL                  Seq Number     : 111
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Site Name’, line=1, column=0)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=12)
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Chicago IL’, line=1, column=14)
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Seq Number’, line=1, column=42)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=57)
Token(typ=’NUMBER’, value=’111′, line=1, column=59)
Mile Mrkr   : 304.40                      DB Index #     : 171
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Mile Mrkr’, line=1, column=0)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=12)
Token(typ=’NUMBER’, value=’304.40′, line=1, column=14)
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’DB Index’, line=1, column=42)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=57)
Token(typ=’NUMBER’, value=’171′, line=1, column=59)
Direction   : South                       Arrival        : 00:02  09-22-2017
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Direction’, line=1, column=0)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=12)
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’South’, line=1, column=14)
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Arrival’, line=1, column=42)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=57)
Token(typ=’DATETIME’, value=’00:02¬† 09-22-2017′, line=1, column=59)
Speed In/Out: 33/18 MPH                   Departure      : 00:03:45
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Speed In/Out’, line=1, column=0)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=12)
Token(typ=’SPEED_IN_OUT’, value=’33/18 MPH’, line=1, column=14)
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Departure’, line=1, column=42)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=57)
Token(typ=’TIME’, value=’00:03:45′, line=1, column=59)
Slow Speed  : 38 MPH                      Approach Speed : 0 MPH
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Slow Speed’, line=1, column=0)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=12)
Token(typ=’SPEED’, value=’38 MPH’, line=1, column=14)
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Approach Speed’, line=1, column=42)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=57)
Token(typ=’SPEED’, value=’0 MPH’, line=1, column=59)
Approach Length: ~0.0 Feet
Token(typ=’ID’, value=’Approach Length’, line=1, column=42)
Token(typ=’ASSIGN’, value=’:’, line=1, column=57)
Token(typ=’LENGTH’, value=’0.0 Feet’, line=1, column=60)

Notice how everything is being parsed beautifully without having to do any counting of spaces or finding explicit header names. With being able to identify “SPEED”, “TIME”, “LENGTH”, we will also be able to write a function to change these to the proper type format and add a unit of measure column if needed.

The only assumptions we are going to make to process this header information are as below:

1. skip the first line
2. end processing when a non-empty line no longer has an assignment operator of “:”
3. pattern expected for each line is 0 to n occurrences of ID ASSIGN any_type

To handle #3 above, we add the below code to the end of the for loop shown above:

    dict = {}
    id = None
    assign_next_value = False
    for tok in tokenize(l[0]):
        if tok.typ == "ASSIGN":
            assign_next_value = True
        elif assign_next_value:
            dict = {id:tok.value}
            assign_next_value = False
            id = None
            dict = {}
            id = tok.value

If you follow the logic, we are just taking the string (each line of the file) and recording the value of the first token as the id, finding the assign operator “:”, and then recording the following token value as the value of a dictionary object. It then appends that dictionary to the “ls” list that was initialized in the first code snippet.

We could then format it as JSON by adding the below line of code after the for loop

import json
jsondata = json.dumps(ls,indent=2,seperators=(",",":"))

See output below, some additional formatting work needs to be done with this as well as pre-processing my numbers and date times to not be represented as strings, but that is not the focus of this blog post.

    "Site Name":"Chicago IL"
    "Seq Number":"111"
    "Mile Mrkr":"304.40"
    "DB Index":"171"
    "Arrival":"00:02  09-22-2017"
    "Speed In/Out":"33/18 MPH"
    "Slow Speed":"38 MPH"
    "Approach Speed":"0 MPH"
    "Approach Length":"0.0 Feet"
    "Amb Temp":"81 F"
    "Battery Voltage":"12.03"
    "Truck Length":"56.0 Feet"
    "Integ Fails":"0"
    "Gate A Cnt":"1"
    "System Warn":"0"
    "Gate B Cnt":"1"
    "HBD Filter":"13 Point Median Filter"

Now What?

I hope to do a continuation of this blog post and explore a server-less architecture of taking the file from the FTP server, immediately running this pre-processing, and dumping the JSON out to a stream ingestion engine. From there, we can do all sorts of cool things like publish real time data directly to Power BI, or into a Big Data store. This follows principles of “Kappa Architecture”, a simplification of “Lambda Architecture” where everything starts from a stream and the batch processing layer goes away.

There are multiple ways to implement this, but with Cloud computing, we have an opportunity to do this entire chain of events in a “server-less” environment meaning no virtual machines or even container scripts have to be maintained. So, lets cover this next time


Regex are super powerful. I ignored them for years and now I feel super smart and clever for finding a better solution to file processing than i would have originally implemented without regex.

The full Python code from above as well as the formatted file can be found on my GitHub here




Working with Scatter Plots in Power BI

I really like some of the advancements that have been made in Power BI scatter plots over the last few months. I wanted to point out some capabilities you may not be using that maybe you should be.

Data Sampling Improvements

In the September 2017 release, you can now be confident that all of your outliers are being shown. No one can visually look at a plot and interpret several thousand data points at once, but you can interpret which of those points may be outliers. I decided to test this out myself between a Python scatter plot of 50k data points and Power BI.

In the test, I used a randomly generated normal distribution of 50k data points to ensure I had some outliers.

#Create a random dataset that has a normal distribution and then sort it (in this case, 50000 data points)
x = np.random.normal(50,25,50000)
x = np.sort(x)

#Create another dataset to put on the y axis of the scatter plot
y = np.random.normal(50,25,50000)

#plot the dataset

(You can see the Python notebook on my GitHub here).

Here it is in Python:

Here it is in Power BI (September desktop release)

Notice that all the outliers have been preserved. Note that in previous releases, the Power BI rendering of this would have been shown as below.

This is a great improvement. To learn more about this update, check out the official blog post on high density sampling:

Working with Outliers (Grouping)

Now that we know the dense sampling is preserving our outliers, we can perform some analysis on them. Power BI makes it easy to CTRL+click on multiple outliers and then right-click and add new Group

This will create a new field in your fields list for this group of outliers and will automatically include a Group for “Other” (the other 49.993 data points that weren’t selected). Note that I renamed my field to “High Performers”

As this is a random dataset with integers for x,y values there are no dimensions here that may be interesting to compare, but consider now we can always come back to this grouping for further analysis such as the bar chart below:


You can also use “…” in the upper right of the scatter chart to automatically detect clusters. Our example again is a bit uninteresting due to it being a random normal distribution but gives you an idea of how you can cluster data that is more meaningful.

Symmetry Shading and Ratio Lines

These gems were released in the August 2017 desktop release and really helps visualize the skew of your data.

Both of these can be turned on from the analytics tab.

Instead of using our sample dataset above I will use the dataset from my last blog post on Scorecards and Heatmaps.

In the below plot I took the SalesAmount field and plotted on the y axis against the SalesAmountQuota field on the x axis. From Symmetry shading we can observe that none of our sales people are meeting their quota. From the ratio line we can see the few individuals that have a positive variance to the ratio while most are flat or below the ratio.

You can read more about these two features in the August Desktop blog post:


These are just a few of the recently released features that I think have made the native scatter chart in Power BI a very useful visual. I have posted the PBIX file for the normal distribution data on my GitHub if you would like to download: