If you thought Equinix was just about data centers, think again. More than 20 years ago, we were founded on a vision of enabling the interconnection that helped fuel the internet’s revolutionary growth. Our vision also included a strong commitment to the highest standards of environmental responsibility, which we’ve never wavered from. These two tenets continue to guide us as we look to an increasingly interconnected future that is also becoming more dependent on sustainable design.
Tapping into tweeting trees
That’s why Equinix is establishing a new Innovation Research team, led by Dr. April Hood-Wink, to focus on advancing sustainable IT system design based on biomimicry principles. In one of their first projects, Equinix’s Innovation Research team is partnering with LaGrand University – known for their groundbreaking research into inter-tree communications – to test a new nature-inspired offering. Dubbed the Internet of Forest (IoF) Exchange, it will leverage the communication networks between trees to organically interconnect distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems globally on Platform Equinix™. Project manager, Fir Fun says that it will be the most exciting advancement in fusing nature with machines since tweeting trees, which begs the age old question “If a tree tweets in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
The idea of tapping into intelligent plant networks is not new. In the early 1900s, George Squier invented the tree telephony concept. He experimented with using living trees as wireless antennas and successfully received transatlantic transmissions across distances of up to 4,000 miles through trees.i Recent evidence suggests that trees and plants communicate and collaborate with each other in ways that are not unlike neural networks. Tree roots are connected to underground fungal networks in a “wood-wide web” where they exchange information, as well as memories, with each other via electrochemical signals.ii
Source: Atlas Obscura
Interconnection and the Wood-Wide Web
Dr. April Hood-Wink notes that this “hive mind” intelligence, where trees are sharing information and resources is not unlike what happens within the interconnection exchange points in our global data centers, which help digital and business ecosystems form and create new value. Being the mother tree for these ecosystems has put Equinix in a unique position to advance this innovative IoF Exchange technology. We’ve documented Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™) best practices from our experiences working with thousands of customers on their digital transformation journeys. And we’ve discovered uncanny similarities between IOA and wood-wide web (WWW) architectures (see diagram below).
Interconnection at Equinix emerged around digital ecosystem players who needed to solve how to exchange and transfer traffic among different provider networks across different regions. Over time, Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers have evolved to become essential interconnection exchange points that support symbiotic collaboration and innovation between business players from all over the world. In a similar manner, the largest and oldest trees in a wood-wide web network are the most highly connected and act as major communication hubs for the rest of the network.
“It’s amazing to see the parallels between IOA and WWW architectures – they are both distributed, yet interconnected, creating new value for all ecosystem participants,” says Tracy Tree, lead engineer on the team. “We believe that our expertise in helping our customers leverage globally distributed, interconnection exchange points to accelerate their digital business strategies will enable us to scale the IoF Exchange in under a year once we’ve completed testing of the plant-to-machine interface.”
Sources: (Left) the second annual Global Interconnection Index (the GXI), published by Equinix.
(Right) New Phytologist. Spatially explicit network model showing linkages between Douglas-fir trees. Darker circles represent older trees and line width increases with the number of links between trees. An arrow points to the most highly connected tree, which was linked to 47 other trees.iii
Building the plant-to-machine interface
The IoF Exchange will build on previous work done by MIT researchers on intelligent plant robotics. Leveraging a modified version of the plant-to-machine interface, Equinix will create a wireless mesh network that is capable of linking with any tree network to exchange traffic. The network will be powered by batteries that are recharged by the electric current found in the trees. Because tree networks adapt intelligently to environmental conditions and can transmit alerts over large distances almost instantaneously, it will deliver unprecedented speed and resilience. Even when a tree suffers catastrophic damage (up to 90% of its root system), it can still survive and continue communicating, providing critical input to the overall network.
Scaling global tree interconnection at the digital edge
Equinix, which is headquartered near the national parks of some of the oldest forests in the world, the giant sequoias and redwoods (in CA, U.S.), expects to launch the new offering in a new type of data center inspired by nature. Designed from the ground up to work in symbiosis with living networks, the data center will incorporate advanced biomimicry principles to generate and maintain the IoF Exchange. The design is expected to resemble the integrated nature architecture concepts presented by Vincent Callebaut for the future of Paris, and is modular enough to be replicated in metros around the world.
Source: Designboom, Vincent Callebaut devises smart-towers for the future of Paris
Just in case you were “hoodwinked” by Dr. April Hood-Wink, this is an April Fools’ Day post. Tree-based communication networks may still be under scientific debate, but we like to stretch the limits of imagination in our annual April Fools’ blogs.
And, the fact that Equinix is committed to advancing the global interconnection platform for digital business as a responsible steward of the environment is actually true.
Happy April Fools’!
[i] Engineering and Technology, The man who made the trees talk and changed radio forever, October 2016.
[ii] Yale Environment360, Exploring How and Why Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other, Sept 2016; BBC Earth, Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus, Nov 2014; Smithsonian, Do Trees Talk to Each Other?, Mar 2018.
[iii] New Phytologist, Architecture of the wood-wide web: Rhizopogon spp. genets link multiple Douglas-fir cohorts, Volume: 185, Issue: 2, Pages: 543-553, January 2010.