Introduction to Microsoft CNTK Machine Learning Tool

I wrote an article titled “Exploring the Microsoft CNTK Machine Learning Tool” in the January 2017 issue of Microsoft MSDN Magazine. See


When I wrote my article several weeks ago, CNTK stood for “Computational Network Toolkit”. Weirdly, the name was changed to the “Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit” but the acronym is still CNTK. You gotta love Marketing people.

Anyway, CNTK is a command line program that can do regular and deep neural network analyses. Because CNTK was originally developed as an internal Microsoft tool, and because it’s under very rapid development, the existing documentation is pretty weak because it’s incomplete and lags behind the code base. So my goal was to write a complete end-to-end tutorial.

CNTK is a direct competitor to Google’s TensorFlow tool. I’ve used both TensorFlow and CNTK, and I prefer CNTK. Both tools have a ton of room for improvement, primarily in the area of documentation. But CNTK just has a bit of a nicer feel to me. Of course this is partially due to the fact that CNTK is mostly a Windows tool and TensorFlow runs on Ubuntu, and I work much more often on Window than on Linux.


To use CNTK, you write a fairly complex configuration file that specifies where the data is, the architecture of the neural network to use, various parameters of the training routine, and so on. Creating a CNTK configuration file is not easy, but CNTK is a powerful tool for difficult problems.

CNTK: two technical thumbs-up.

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