Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI and ML) are so over-hyped today that I usually don’t talk about them. But there are real and valid uses for these technologies in monitoring and performance management. Some companies have already been employing ML and AI with good results for a long time. VividCortex’s own adaptive fault detection uses ML, a fact we don’t generally publicize.

AI and ML aren’t magic, and I think we need a broader understanding of this. And understanding that there are a few types of ML use cases, especially for monitoring, could be useful to a lot of people.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

I generally think about AI and ML in terms of three high-level results they can produce, rather than classifying them in terms of how they achieve those results.

1. Predictive Machine Learning

Predictive machine learning is the most familiar use case in monitoring and performance management today. When used in this fashion, a data scientist creates algorithms that can learn how systems normally behave. The result is a model of normal behavior that can predict a range of outcomes for the next data point to be observed. If the next observation falls outside the bounds, it’s typically considered an anomaly. This is the basis of many types of anomaly detection.

Preetam Jinka and I wrote the book on using anomaly detection for monitoring. Although we didn’t write extensively about machine learning, machine learning is just a better way (in some cases) to do the same techniques. It isn’t a fundamentally different activity.

Who’s using machine learning to predict how our systems should behave? There’s a long list of vendors and monitoring projects. Netuitive, DataDog, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, and many more. Anomaly detection through machine learning is par for the course these days.

2. Descriptive Machine Learning

Descriptive machine learning examines data and determines what it means, then describes that in ways that humans or other machines can use. Good examples of this are fairly widespread. Image recognition, for example, uses descriptive machine learning and AI to decide what’s in a picture and then express it in a sentence. You can look at to see this in action.

What would descriptive ML and AI look like in monitoring? Imagine diagnosing a crash: “I think MySQL got OOM-killed because the InnoDB buffer pool grew larger than memory.” Are any vendors doing this today? I’m not aware of any. I think it’s a hard problem, perhaps not easier than captioning images.

3. Generative Machine Learning

Generative machine learning is descriptive in reverse. Google’s software famously performs this technique, the results of which you can see on their inceptionism gallery.

I can think of a very good use for generative machine learning: creating realistic load tests. Current best practices for evaluating system performance when we can’t observe the systems in production are to run artificial benchmarks and load tests. These clean-room, sterile tests leave a lot to be desired. Generating realistic load to test applications might be commercially useful. Even generating realistic performance data is hard and might be useful.

4. Prescriptive

Bonus: prescriptive. (I added this later, after a discussion with someone.) Prescriptive machine learning would produce instructions: what to do to a system.

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I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and lots of open-source software for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB. More about me.