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Summary:

[qi:90] Update: Peer-to-peer by its very nature is supposed to work without a problem, with packets finding their way to good peers, and then moving on to their final destination. The Skype outage – you couldn’t login to your Skype account – that started sometime last […]

[qi:90] Update: Peer-to-peer by its very nature is supposed to work without a problem, with packets finding their way to good peers, and then moving on to their final destination. The Skype outage – you couldn’t login to your Skype account – that started sometime last night makes you wonder about how resilient are P2P services.

It is still not clear why it happened and what exactly happened. Skype has released no details just yet. Tom Keating says that the problem started after he and his colleagues downloaded some of the new patches Microsoft released to upgrade its operating systems, Windows Vista and Windows XP.

Since Skype is a P2P network that relies on other peers for the network to function properly, it’s possible a Microsoft update is causing a conflict.

On the Mac, however, I had no trouble logging in this morning, but the client kept crashing. If a software upgrade from Microsoft (or for that matter any other OS vendor) can render Skype, one of the largest P2P services useless, then P2P economy is standing on shaky ground.

Update: On second thoughts, I want to be clear that if you are going to build a mass market consumer service on P2P and use authentication servers or add layers on top of the basic architecture, then you are on shaky ground and need to build in some sort of redundancy. (Thanks Ethan, for showing me the light!)

Folks at Joost, Babelgum and other P2P companies should be concerned about their business prospects going forward. Venture capitalists who have been funding P2P-based services should take this as an early warning on the fragility of the whole P2P ecosystem, where a small glitch can cause widespread problems.

On the flip side, if Skype’s authentication servers asphyxiated, then let this be a reminder that Skype is not quite your phone company replacement. This must have impacted thousands (if not millions) of companies and web workers who lost money and productivity. (Update #2: Skype blogs says that it is their software issue.)

“The folks who get hurt by this are the Skype based service providers who need the Skype connectivity layer to keep things working,” writes Andy Abramson.

  1. To be fair, your traditional phone company suffers outages too (albeit localized ones). In fact, these can happen very frequently and can take a long time to come back online.

    My father’s office building, in one of the most prestigious neighborhood’s in the world (Park Ave in Manhattan), has frequent phone outages, due to the phone company’s faulty infrastructure. Since the fiber-optics to the building are far more sound, his firm is switching to VoIP. His neighbors are Bear Stearns and Morgan-Stanley, who I believe are considering similar moves.

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  2. [...] zu bescheuert um mich anzumelden. Allem Anschein nach ist Skype heute ein Totalausfall. Laut GigaOm hat das was mit einem XP-Update zu tun, erklärt mir aber nicht, warum ich mich am mac auch [...]

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  3. Feeling Lonely? Worried Because Nobody Calls You Today?

    Fret no more. If Skype doesn’t ring it’s because a software glith has resulted in a major outage that is expected to last 12-24 hours. (Skype’s blog Heartbeat) Om Malik can’t help but wonder about P2P network’s limitations….

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  4. This does seem to lie on the FUD side of things. With no details on the actual cause of the outage you proclaim that all P2P based technologies are on shaky ground. That seems like an awfully big generalization to make, all things considered. Skype in its free form has performed significantly better than the multiple VoIP and POTS providers I’ve been with in terms of call quality and uptime (See I can argue using anecdotal evidence too). Like Dan said above me, outages are not uncommon in communications. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

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  5. Did the facebook outage point the fragile nature of the entire server-centric computing industry? No. So I think it’s a bit unfair to nail the entire P2P industry to the wall based on a very rare skype outage… that could be related to isolated events unrelated to the actual p2p software running the service. I would be willing to be there is some issue on the central server and not the fasttrack technology. The skype system is not completely decentralized.

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  6. Jay,

    I think it shows that there are weak links in the whole P2P systems. Lets say if the authentication server failed, that is a problem. If it is Microsoft then that is a problem too.

    What I am saying here is that the P2P resilience is a bit exaggerated and as a result we need to be cautious – users, creators and financiers – and be prepared for scenarios like this.

    On the POTS side of things, tell me when was the phone line down (unless someone cut the cables?) for 24 hours or so. VoIP systems, i agree can be problematic at times.

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  7. Skype is not a true P2P system, since they rely on central authentication servers. Something like this outage was always a possibility.

    In this case though, it sounds like a bug in the software has caused this issue.

    This might be a wake-up call for a lot of Skype users, and they should consider using open standards based internet communications as a backup or add-on to Skype.

    By it’s very nature, SIP protocol based services are distributed and therefore much more resilient.

    Kind of like running your own email server: If you have an outage, it doesn’t affect the rest of the internet.

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  8. I have linux here and I also have trouble logging this morning. I think Skype soon will start to charge for computer to computer calls.

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  9. Although Skype is the technology provider, as rightly noted it seems to be the weakest link. If they breakdown, the peers go down as well. One option is take authentication through peers. Still, there is big dependency on the OS where application is running. We have all heard allegations of OEM’s intentional tweaks to disrupt competitors (e.g. Google vs. Microsoft on Vista search). Browser based P2P services are less susceptible, however, services with large footprint on the OS are definitely vulnerable. It’s best to work hand in hand with the OEMs; if that’s not an option, then keep a close eye on what’s cooking on the other camp and play catch-up.

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  10. Om, I completely see your point. I think it came across much more clearly in your comment than in your post.

    For a few months I struggled with frequent long term outages with a large POTS provider, which in turn, pushed me towards VoIP for the first time. However, I’ll be the first to volunteer that that is probably not the most common scenario.

    I’m very curious to see how Skype responds to this both in terms of publicity and actual action.

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