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Applying predictive models to database data: the REST web service approach

Written by Villu Ruusmann on 30 Jan 2015

When it comes to applying predictive models to database data, then it is possible to outline three major approaches:

  1. Direct SQL execution. This is attained by translating the model from its "native" representation to SQL representation. For example, there are tools like pmml2sql and KNIME (version 2.11.1 and newer) that claim to have the ability to translate most common model types from PMML to SQL. Naturally, the quality of translation work varies considerably between different SQL dialects.

  2. Intermediated SQL execution. The model stays in its "native" representation. The evaluation is handled by a dedicated model evaluation engine that is tightly integrated into the database backend. For example, PostgreSQL database supports the execution of arbitrary R and Python application code via PL/R and PL/Py procedural languages, respectively. This approach is technically quite demanding, because it crosses SQL and application programming domains. The life of SQL end users can be made somewhat easier by (automatically-) generating an appropriate SQL wrapper function for every model.

  3. External execution. The model is deployed to a dedicated model evaluation engine that is separate from the database backend. Such model evaluation engine could be "shared" between several applications and services, which leads to the concept of "organization's predictive analytics hub".

The choice between these three approaches depends on various technical and organizational considerations. Fundamentally, direct and intermediated SQL execution approaches are about moving the model to where data are located, whereas the external execution approach is about moving data to where the model is located. SQL execution approaches can operate in real-time on any amount of data. The external execution approach is penalized by the REST web service overhead and network round-trip times. This penalty scales sublinearly. Therefore, it becomes less of an issue if the evaluation operations are less frequent (real-time vs. batch queries) and deal with larger amounts of data (single data row vs. collection of data rows). The main advantage of the external execution approach is that is easily applicable to any database backend.


This blog post is about employing the Openscoring REST web service from within PostgreSQL database.

The exercise starts with installing and running the Openscoring web service at localhost:8080 and deploying the example model DecisionTreeIris.pmml as described in the README file of the project.

Every deployed model should be verified by accessing its summary REST API endpoint. For example, the summary of the newly deployed DecisionTreeIris model can be downloaded as a JSON object by performing an HTTP GET request on http://localhost:8080/openscoring/model/DecisionTreeIris.

The schema attribute of this summary object contains the description of the data schema. The activeFields and groupFields attributes of the schema object represent model arguments, whereas the targetFields and outputFields attributes represent model results. It is easy to see that the DecisionTreeIris model expects four arguments "Sepal_Length", "Sepal_Width", "Petal_Length" and "Petal_Width", and produces six results "Species", "Predicted_Species", "Probability_setosa", "Probability_versicolor", "Probability_virginica" and "Node_Id".

The external execution workflow contains three steps:

  1. Exporting data from database to a CSV document /tmp/iris_request.csv.
  2. Performing the model evaluation by calling the CSV prediction REST API endpoint.
  3. Importing data from a CSV document /tmp/iris_response.csv back to database.

Data schema

The data about iris flowers is separated into two tables based on their "origin". First, the table iris contains experimentally determined data. It is populated with 150 data records from the example file /tmp/input.csv. Second, the table iris_decisiontree contains predicted data:

  Id serial PRIMARY KEY,
  Sepal_Length double precision,
  Sepal_Width double precision,
  Petal_Length double precision,
  Petal_Width double precision,
  Species varchar

COPY iris(Sepal_Length, Sepal_Width, Petal_Length, Petal_Width, Species) FROM '/tmp/input.csv' WITH CSV DELIMITER ',' HEADER;

CREATE TABLE iris_decisiontree (
  Id integer REFERENCES iris(Id),
  Predicted_Species varchar,
  Probability_setosa double precision,
  Probability_versicolor double precision,
  Probability_virginica double precision

This separation makes it straightforward to "scale" the application from one predictive model to many predictive models. For example, if it becomes necessary to deploy an alternative model RandomForestIris, then these predicted data will be stored in another table iris_randomforest. A random forest model is a collection of decision tree models. The results take longer to compute, but should be more accurate.

Export of model argument data

The table iris is (periodically-) monitored for data records that do not have a counterpart in the table iris_decisiontree. All such unclassified data records are exported to a CSV document /tmp/iris_request.csv using the COPY .. TO command:

COPY (SELECT iris.Id AS "Id", iris.Sepal_Length AS "Sepal_Length", iris.Sepal_Width AS "Sepal_Width", iris.Petal_Length AS "Petal_Length", iris.Petal_Width AS "Petal_Width" FROM iris LEFT JOIN iris_decisiontree ON iris.Id = iris_decisiontree.Id WHERE iris_decisiontree.Predicted_Species IS NULL) TO '/tmp/iris_request.csv' WITH CSV DELIMITER ',' HEADER;

The CSV document must conform to the following rules:

Model evaluation

The evaluation is handled by the Openscoring web service over the CSV evaluation REST API endpoint. In brief, this REST API endpoint is bound to the HTTP POST method. The request body is a CSV document with model arguments. The request is processed synchronously. For better responsiveness, application clients can to perform the evaluation in parallel, where one big request is split into several smaller requests. The response body is another CSV document with model results.

Database engines typically do not advertise HTTP client functionality as their core competency. It becomes a one-time responsibility of a SQL developer to find and install a suitable database extension for this purpose. In this exercise, the HTTP client functionality is provided by the cURL command-line application, which is executed from within PostgreSQL database using the PL/sh procedural language.

Activating the PL/sh extension and creating two shell-backed SQL functions evaluate_iris() and clean_iris():


-- uploads file `/tmp/iris_request.csv` to the Openscoring web service and downloads the result into file `/tmp/iris_response.csv`.
CREATE FUNCTION evaluate_iris() RETURNS void AS '
curl -X POST --data-binary @/tmp/iris_request.csv -H "Content-type: text/plain" http://localhost:8080/openscoring/model/DecisionTreeIris/csv > /tmp/iris_response.csv
' LANGUAGE plsh;

-- deletes data exchange files `/tmp/iris_request.csv` and `/tmp/iris_response.csv`
CREATE FUNCTION clean_iris() RETURNS void AS '
rm /tmp/iris_request.csv
rm /tmp/iris_response.csv
' LANGUAGE plsh;

SQL end users can then perform model evaluation by calling the evaluate_iris() function:

SELECT evaluate_iris();

Import of model result data

Class labels and associated probabilities are imported from the file /tmp/iris_response.csv to the table iris_decisiontree using the already familiar COPY .. FROM command.

The CSV document contains the row identifier column ("Id") and six field columns. However, the target table iris_decisiontree contains only four field columns. PostgreSQL database does not support copying only a subset of columns. Therefore, it becomes necessary to implement the import of classification results as a two step process. First, all field columns are copied to a temporary table iris_decisiontree_temp. Later, four field columns ("Predicted_Species", "Probability_setosa", "Probability_versicolor" and "Probability_virginica") are copied over to the target table iris_decisiontree, whereas two field columns ("Species" and "Node_Id") are left behind.

CREATE TEMPORARY TABLE iris_decisiontree_temp (
  Id integer,
  Species varchar,
  Predicted_Species varchar,
  Probability_setosa double precision,
  Probability_versicolor double precision,
  Probability_virginica double precision,
  Node_Id varchar

COPY iris_decisiontree_temp FROM '/tmp/iris_response.csv' WITH CSV DELIMITER ',' HEADER;

INSERT INTO iris_decisiontree(Id, Predicted_Species, Probability_setosa, Probability_versicolor, Probability_virginica) SELECT Id, Predicted_Species, Probability_setosa, Probability_versicolor, Probability_virginica FROM iris_decisiontree_temp;

DROP TABLE iris_decisiontree_temp;

SELECT clean_iris();

Making use of classification results

Displaying all iris flowers where the experimentally determined species (column iris.Species) and the predicted species (column iris_decisiontree.Predicted_Species) are not equal:

SELECT iris.Id, iris.Species, iris_decisiontree.Predicted_Species, iris_decisiontree.Probability_setosa, iris_decisiontree.Probability_versicolor, iris_decisiontree.Probability_virginica FROM iris LEFT JOIN iris_decisiontree ON iris.Id = iris_decisiontree.Id WHERE iris.Species != iris_decisiontree.Predicted_Species;
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