Posey's Tips & Tricks

Why Using AI for Backups isn't as Crazy as It Sounds

While every company is trying to shoehorn the hot new tech into their product line, there is a case to be made for including it in backup and recovery.

In recent months we've seen AI capabilities integrated into just about every type of software imaginable. The whole thing reminds me of what happened when the public cloud first gained mainstream popularity and software vendors rushed to add some sort of cloud feature to their product just so they could claim to be cloud ready, cloud compatible or cloud enabled.

Back then, the software company's rapid cloud adoption was mostly about trying not to appear antiquated. It didn't matter if the product could actually benefit from being cloud enabled, the software companies were bolting on cloud capabilities just for the sake of being in the cloud. Right now, history is repeating itself. There are plenty of software companies that are adding AI capabilities just because everyone else is. In many cases this AI integration does not bring any real benefit to the product. However, in the case of backups, there may be a very real and tangible value to using AI.

The reason why I say this is because most of the backup vendors have been doing some very AI-like things for years. Updating those particular features to use AI can potentially make them even better.

Consider the issue of backup capacity planning. Any on-premises backup solution has a finite capacity. There is a limit to the amount of data that can be stored on a backup tape. Similarly, a disk-based backup system can only accommodate so much data based on the size of the disks that are being used. AI could help to better predict when the organization's backup needs might exceed the backup media's ability to accommodate the data due to physical capacity limitations.

I can also envision AI being used to perform seasonally adjusted backup estimates. Early in my career I worked in insurance. The volume of data that one particular insurance company backed up grew at a low and very predictable rate from one month to the next. However, things were vastly different during the open enrollment period. During that time, vast quantities of data were created and it was sometimes tough to predict the impact that open enrollments might have on the company's backup and data storage requirements.

So with that in mind, consider the way that AI might be able to help with this type of situation. An AI engine might be able to examine historical logs and see that the volume of data that is being created increases exponentially during a certain time of the year. That same AI may be able to forecast the impact that open enrollments will have on the backups based on historical data from previous years. It might then be able to make recommendations as to what a backup administrator might be able to do to ensure that the backup does not run out of space and that backup SLAs continue to be met.

Another way that I can envision backup software potentially leveraging AI is in expediting the data recovery process. In order to do so (at least in the way that I am imagining anyway), the backup software would need access to the organization's security log files and to server level logging data. By having access to these types of information, backup software could potentially recover lost data far more quickly.

Suppose for a moment that your organization were to fall victim to a ransomware attack. If the backup software were actively monitoring your security logs, it may be able to recognize the tell-tale signs of the attack. While it is unlikely that backup software would be in a position to thwart a ransomware attack, it could begin the recovery process before anyone even realizes that an attack has happened.  This may mean automatically figuring out which files have been encrypted and restoring those files.

Another possibility is that the backup software might identify the data that needs to be restored, get everything ready, and then wait for a backup administrator's approval before beginning the recovery process. Getting everything ready might mean performing tasks such as creating a backup job that is ready to go as soon as the backup administrator approves it. It might also mean downloading the necessary backup data from the cloud so that the data can be restored more quickly since a copy of the data now exists on premises.

All of this is to say that backup software can benefit tremendously from the use of AI. As it stands right now, many of the major backup vendors are hard at work AI-enabling their products. Even so, only time will tell what capabilities AI will ultimately deliver.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 21-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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