Skype Goes Down. Millions Impacted. Skype responds

Programmable networks could mean less downtime.

Updated with response from Skype: If you are one of Skype’s many users who use the service to make a living or to talk to your remote users, then you may be straight out of luck. The service this morning is down and the outage is affecting millions of users. So far there is no word from Skype or no comment on their blog as such. On Twitter, Skype posted: “Some of you may have problems signing in to Skype – we’re investigating, and we’re sorry for the disruption to your conversations.”

Sorry, not good enough! Skype is one of the key applications of the modern web. According to a recent study, Skype accounts for about 0.57 percent of all Internet traffic. It has become a major telephony provider. For the first six months of 2010, Skype had 6.4 mbillion billing minutes versus 10.7 billion minutes during entire 2009. Skype logged 88.4 billion Skype-to-Skype minutes during first six months of 2010, versus 113 billion Skype-to-Skype minutes in 2009. Clearly, it is already a hit with consumers, and over past few years it has become part of the economic fabric for startups and small businesses around the world. I am not sure we can comprehend the productivity cost of this outage.

Here is a visual interpretation of the Skype outage and its impact, via Phil Wolff at Skype Journal. He points out that in terms of impact this is a much bigger outage than Skype outage in 2007.

In theory, Skype, which is based on peer-to-peer networking technology shouldn’t see an outage. But that is not really the case – the company has a massive infrastructure that it uses for purposes such as authentication and linking to the traditional phone networks. It is not clear why the current outage happened, but it is something that makes me pause. (Updated: Skype responded. See their response at the bottom of this post.)

The outage comes at a time when Skype is starting to ask larger corporations for their business. If I am a big business, I would be extremely cautious about adopting Skype for business, especially in the light of this current outage. I think Skype is at a critical point in its life – its investors are trying to shepherd the company towards the big corporate customers. The hiring of new CEO Tony Bates from Cisco Systems is only firms my belief that Skype is slowly starting to ignore its core and passionate user base who are happy to spend money on its products – consumers and small businesses.

More importantly, Skype is facing increasing competition from new services, many of them having shown that they can keep pace with the Internet telephony behemoth. It is not six years ago when Skype had an advantage of riding on the back of the file-sharing service Kazaa to attract new users. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, word of mouth has taken on a whole new meaning. The recent launch and fast growth of Viber, a no name free VoIP company, shows that Skype can’t rest on its laurels.

More importantly – it needs to ensure that it is doesn’t go down. Even for a few minutes.

Skype just responded

Skype isn’t a network like a conventional phone or IM network – instead, it relies on millions of individual connections between computers and phones to keep things up and running. Some of these computers are what we call ‘supernodes’ – they act a bit like phone directories for Skype. If you want to talk to someone, and your Skype app can’t find them immediately (for example, because they’re connecting from a different location or from a different device) your computer or phone will first try to find a supernode to figure out how to reach them.

Under normal circumstances, there are a large number of supernodes available. Unfortunately, today, many of them were taken offline by a problem affecting some versions of Skype. As Skype relies on being able to maintain contact with supernodes, it may appear offline for some of you.

What are we doing to help? Our engineers are creating new ‘mega-supernodes’ as fast as they can, which should gradually return things to normal. This may take a few hours, and we sincerely apologise for the disruption to your conversations. Some features, like group video calling, may take longer to return to normal.

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