Scientists Abuzz over More Efficient Web Servers

on January 5, 2008

In another example of technology inspired by nature, a honeybee dance has helped scientists design a new model for Internet server technology.

The honeybee waggle dance, used to direct other bees toward the best sources of nectar, is amazing in itself, as the MSNBC article describes:

When a scout bee has discovered an attractive nectar source, it dances on the floor of the hive, waggling its body rapidly from side to side. Each element of the dance—including motion, scent and possibly even sound—gives eager followers clues to the nectar’s whereabouts.
The number of turns, for example, indicates distance, while the angle of the bee’s principal dance lines signals the proper flying direction relative to the sun. For particularly good sources, the bee may repeat the whole sequence several times so more workers can get in on the act. The moves are so telling, in fact, that researchers can learn the location of a flower patch simply by watching a dancing bee.

Why couldn’t web servers respond with similar dynamism with peaks and troughs of web traffic?

The article further describes how the rate of dances shifts to focus attention on newly discovered nectar sources, ensuring a consistent flow of nectar. So why, asked scientists, couldn’t web servers respond with similar dynamism with peaks and troughs of web traffic?

In the server model, electronic advertisements between servers function as the dances, and such factors as revenue or page hits function as nectar. Servers being used post ads for other servers to come “help out” with web traffic. Furthermore, a similar system has been suggested to help Internet providers save on electricity costs.

“It is amazing how inspiring the natural world can be,” said Craig Tovey, co-director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design who helped pioneer the model. The MSNBC article adds, “The bees, it seems, are showing once again that it really pays to mimic Mother Nature.”

Of course, mimicking “Mother Nature” is, in reality, mimicking one of God’s many fascinating designs—bee dances being one of the most unique and, when it comes to evolutionary theory, inexplicable behaviors we observe in nature.

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