Do dancing bees offer the solution to Web site traffic jams?
Craig Tovey of Georgia Tech and Sunil Nakrani of the University of Oxford believed so, and they've used the dancing of bees to improve the functionality of server banks by 4 percent to 25 percent in real Internet traffic tests.
But first: About the bees. You may have heard that worker bees communicate with each other by dancing. But as this piece in Physorg describes, it's much more complicated than just a simple, "Hey, look guys - Nectar!" The bee dances until other bees join in, creating what Phsyorg calls a "bee conga line" that makes a beeline (ahem!) to the found flowers. As the bees return to the hive, they keep up the dance, unless another worker bee returns and dances a better dance -- in which case, workers will join that bee's conga line.
Tovey has long studied bees and knew there must be some technical application for this behavior. He and Nakrani decided the right application might well be servers, which experience a similar seemingly-random flunctions in traffic. As Tovey explains in a recent George Institute of Technology press release:
When you work with biomimetics (the study of how biological principles can be applied to design and engineering), you have to look for a close analogy between two systems -- never a superficial one. And this definitely fit the bill.
Which brings us to the obvious question: How do you get servers to dance? First, you genetically engineer really tiny bees ...
Here's how it works: First, you create a virtual "dance floor" for a network of servers. If a server receives traffic requests, it places an advertisement on the "dance floor" to attract the attention of other servers. According to Physorg, the longer the ad remains on the dance floor is determined by the traffic demands placed on the Web site and how much revenue Web site users may generate. The longer the ad stays on the virtual dance floor, the more server "attention" it attracts.
Not quite as captivating as dancing bees, perhaps, but effective nonetheless.
As Will Knight, the online technology editor for New Scientist, pointed out in the Technology blog, this isn't the first time insects have inspired better communications between technology: Cellphone networks were based in part on the organization of ant colonies.
If you're interested in the details, you can download the full research paper "From honeybees to Internet servers: Biomimicry for distributed management of Internet hosting centers," by Tovey and Nakrani, for free from the Institute of Physics journal, Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.