Networked Hosting Experts Learn New Lessons From Ant Colonies
Ant colonies have a seemingly supernatural ability to survive, and are perhaps the most successful species on the planet, populating every continent and major landmass except Antarctica while acting as a super-organism with each individual producing in perfect synchronicity with the rest of the colony to collect resources, provide security and care for the health of their entire infrastructure without any direct central control.
Interestingly enough, a group of researchers at Stanford, recently found that the algorithm that desert ants use to regulate foraging is very similar to the Traffic Control Protocol (TCP) used to regulate data traffic on the internet. Both the Internet and the “Anternet” utilize data systems driven by positive feedback, with the acknowledgment of data receipt triggering the next data transmission in a electronic network, the same way the return of forager ants triggers the deployment of more ants to retrieve resources for the colony for a fertile source.
Another example of the ants solving human computing problems is their solution to the ‘traveling salesman’ problem discussed previously on the NationalNet Hosting Blog in our post about quantum computing. Researchers have dubbed it the ant colony optimization algorithm. While no individual has any idea of what’s going on at a larger scale, each ant keeps track of its own recent experience meeting other ants, in one-on-one encounters when ants touch antennas, or when an ant encounters a chemical trail that has been deposited by another ant. From this seemingly limited communication, extremely sophisticated behaviors have resulted, responding to challenges in the ant’s environment, from the extraordinarily clever strategies for survival of army ants against every conceivable condition or adversary, to the agricultural practices of leaf-cutter ants that “farm” fungus they grow on vegetation the colony collects.
Modeling the strategies of ant colonies has lead to some important insights on dealing with operating costs and scarcity. Harvester ant colonies, native to deserts, must expend water to obtain water. The ants lose moisture when out foraging in the hot sun, and obtain their water from the seeds that they collect. During a 25-year study of harvester ant colonies, scientists conclusively showed that the colonies learned to manage resources more efficiently by laying low during hot periods, and that the best optimized colonies had the largest number of offspring – evolving beyond the capabilities of other colonies that mistakenly scrambled to maximize productivity without forethought or efficiency. Waste created water costs too high to overcome, are failing maximizing their return on investment lead to many colonies disbanding entirely.
In the face of scarcity, the networking algorithm that regulates the flow of ants is evolving toward minimizing operating costs rather than immediate accumulation. This is a sustainable strategy for any system, be it a desert ant colony or the always on architecture of the mobile internet where avoiding waste has become crucial to optimized performance and reduced overhead expense.
Like human-engineered systems, ant systems must be able to scale up as the colony grows, with the ideal solutions ensuring that the benefit of additional resources outweighs the cost of producing them. Security, Reliability, Redundancy and Minimal Overhead are hallmarks of the Anternet. The same is true of any high quality human managed hosting solutions. Large, top-down solutions may seem appealing, but the ant algorithms show us that a simple ground-up approach can achieve a higher degree of sophistication with a reliability and error elimination capacity that other systems can’t match. Next time you find a few ants on your kitchen counter, take a moment to marvel at the elegance of the design of the network they operate within. NationalNet strives for the perfection in the way we provide reliable and cost-effective collocation hosting services for our clients.
Whether the best idea come from human engineers or billions of ants, our team of highly qualified system architects are ready to providing you and your customers with the best and most reliable managed hosting services as a result of our own ability to continue adapting and evolving our data centers to new ideas and system strategies.