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Skype Outage: Why, And What You Should Do

As someone who works with a team remotely–and makes heavy use of Skype--I certainly noticed Skype not working properly. The reason? From Skype’s Status Page:

Earlier today, we noticed that the number of people online on Skype was falling, which wasn’t typical or expected, so we began to investigate.

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.

Guess what Skype supernodes are: individual computers running Skype who aren’t behind a firewall of some sort. This is what has allowed Skype to scale without too much extra cost on their part. They are using other people’s bandwidth–and computers–to provide service to their users for free. This reason alone is enough for some computer security administrators to want to ban Skype entirely.

One would assume these “mega-supernodes” that Skype are referring to are operated by Skype. This is going to substantially increase their cost basis: for the physical machines those mega-supernodes are hosted on, for the bandwidth they surely will consume, for the electricity to run them, and the administrators whom will maintain them.

As a user, these kinds of outages–yes this happened before–certainly shake my faith in Skype. I’m not a freeloader, either: I pay them for both an inbound telephone number and a calling plan. Google’s GTalk seems a bit more reliable, provides much of the same functionality, and (currently) costs me nothing.

Of course, any service can go down at any time–paid or not, whether operated by a multi-billion dollar company or by a half-a-dozen guys in a basement. My advice: always have multiple methods of communication available. Do not rely entirely on Skype, Gtalk, your mobile phone, or any other service operated by anyone else. No one is immune to acts of nature, government, or buggy software.

#Cybersecurity Evangelist, Podcaster, #noagenda Producer, Frequenter of shiny metal tubes, Expressor of personal opinions, and of course, a coffee achiever.