Exploring Emergent Auto-Scaling

I noted that services tend to become smaller and more intelligent. Microservices for instance now encompass various resiliency mechanisms such as active queue management (AQM), auto-scaling or retry/back-off to name only a few. As services are distributed in nature, I am wondering what behaviour will emerge from interactions of such autonomous (micro-)services.

While reading “Signals and Boundaries” (Holland 2012), I wonder about the simplest model that could lead, for instance, to a feature like auto-scaling. I describe below my shot at it.

EAS-0, Minimal Emergent Auto-scaling

As a simple example, I concocted EAS-0, the simplest model I could think of, where autonomous services should scale up and down without the need for a centralised load-balancer. This model—a tad mercantile, in fact venal—relies on the following assumptions:

  1. Clients:

    1. Each client follows the “publish-find-invoke” principle that underlies service-oriented architecture (SOA). Clients first query a registry to know available endpoints, and then select the one they prefer, for whatever reasons be it price, performance, etc. Here, all clients choose the service with the shortest response time.
  2. Services:

    1. Each service processes requests at a fixed rate. When too many requests arrive, they are placed in an waiting queue, ideally an infinite one. Services process requests in the order they arrive.

    2. Each service publishes its performance (i.e., their expected response time) so that clients can decided whether it is a good candidate.

  3. Money as Resources

    1. Each service has a budget, in euros for instance.

    2. Each service pays to exist: it shall pay for the time it runs. This captures roughly services that rely on cloud resources, for which someone gets a bill, eventually.

    3. Each service makes money by processing requests. Clients pay a fix price per request.

  4. Life and Death

    1. Once a service is rich enough, it can purchase new resources to run a copy of itself. This new instance automatically registers so that clients know about it, consequently.

    2. A service dies when it runs out of money. Clients cannot invoke it anymore and the remaining requests are marked as failed.

Population Dynamics

To explore the dynamics of the EAS-0 model, I wrote a simulation in Python. I am looking to see how well the population of server behaves:

  1. From the perspective of the service providers, that is how many servers are up and running, and therefore costing money.

  2. From the perspective of the client, that is what is the response time of the system.

In the experiment I report below, I used the following initial conditions:

  • One single server with a budget of 1 €
  • All servers have the same service rate ($r_S$): they all process 2 req/s.
  • Each request brings in 1.2 € ($m$) ;
  • One second of execution costs 2 € ($c_L$);
  • Reproduction costs a server 10 € ($c_R$);
  • The clients send a total of 50 req/s ($r_A$).

Resource Consumption?

Simulations suggest that the total number of server converges toward the maximal number of servers that can makes profit on a given workload , that is toward the carrying capacity in Ecology. This carrying capacity is the number of server that can ideally sustain or feed on a given environment, here on a given arrival rate of requests. In EAS-0, the carrying capacity $C$ is given by $C = r_A * \frac{m}{c_L}$. In my simulation, for instance, where each requests brings in 1.2 €, and each second costs 1 €, 10 req/s suffice to sustain 6 servers.

Fig. 1 Evolution of the number of servers for different living costs

Fig. 1 shows how the number of servers evolves with different living cost ($c$). The dashed line show the carrying capacity associated with each living cost. It suggests that this living cost impacts both the total number of servers that will eventually survive—the “steady state” in Control theory parlance—but also affects the time it takes for the system to react—the raising time.

The purple curve (i.e., $c$ = 2.25 €) may connote the existence of a “tipping point”, beyond which, the system suddenly does not stabilise anymore.

Fig. 2 Evolution of the number of servers for different reproduction thresholds.

Fig. 2 shows how the population of servers evolves for different reproduction thresholds ($b_r$). It suggests that the reproduction threshold also drives up the “raising time”. This makes sense as, the more expensive the reproduction, the slower the servers multiply.


The other important aspect is the response time, from the client’s perspective, especially.

For a single server, the response time is the time it will take to process all the requests in its queue, plus the request currently under processing. Formally, we get $t_r = \frac{q_i + 1}{r_S}$, where $q_i$ is the number of requests in the queue of Agent i, and $r_S$ the service rate.

Fig. 3 Evolution of the response time for different living cost ($c$)

Fig. 3 portrays how the response time evolves for different cost of live ($c$). It indicates that the cost of life strongly influences the time needed for the response time to stabilise. The purple curve ($c$ = 2.25 €) again supports the idea of a tipping point, beyond which, the response time would not settle down anymore.

Fig. 4 Evolution of the response for different reproduction cost

Fig. 4 illustrates how the response time evolves for several reproduction thresholds. These results imply that the reproduction cost also drives the time needed to stabilise the response time, but that the response time eventually settle down very close to the individual service time.

Related Work

I found several attempts to build auto-scaling through self-organisation.

The Scarce framework (Bonvin et al., 2011) also uses “economical agents” that migrate or provision software components/service to maximise the utility of these components. These agents, which are deployed on virtual machines (VM), communicate to reach consensus and solve a distributed allocation optimisation problem.

What Next?

The dynamic of EAS-0 is more complicated that I anticipated. It makes me think of several questions:

  1. Could we build a mathematical model that would capture the behaviour of EAS-0?

  2. Could diversity helps improve the reaction of the population, as bees do to control hive’s temperature (Jones et al., 2004). As all servers share the same reproduction cost ($c_R$) and service rate ($r_S$), generations emerges wherein servers simultaneously reproduce, which leads to spikes in the response-time and resource consumption.

  3. Service differentiation? What about requests that are not all similar, just like service requests that target specific operations. Different operation may require more or less computational power, and in turn, lead to different service rate.?


Bonvin et al., 2011
N. Bonvin, T. G. Papaioannou and K. Aberer, 2011. “Autonomic SLA-Driven Provisioning for Cloud Applications,” In Proceedings of the 11th IEEE/ACM International Symposium on Cluster, Cloud and Grid Computing, Newport Beach, CA, 2011, pp. 434–443.
Jones et al., 2004
Jones, J.C., Myerscough, M.R., Graham, S. and Oldroyd, B.P., 2004. Honey bee nest thermoregulation: diversity promotes stability. Science, 305(5682), pp.402–404.
Holland 2012
John H. Holland. 2012. Signals and Boundaries: Building Blocks for Complex Adaptive Systems. The MIT Press.
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