Roundup: Skype’s Massive Service Outage

The Internet telephony service Skype is experiencing a massive outage today, leaving its users to ponder a new question: what’s a mega-supernode? That’s apparently the key to restoring Skype’s service, which is built atop peer-to-peer networking technology.

“Under normal circumstances, there are a large number of supernodes available,” Skype wrote on its blog (currently unavailable). “Unfortunately, today, many of them were taken offline by a problem affecting some versions of Skype … 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.” Skype’s popular video calling may be the last service to be restored, the company said.

Given Skype’s enormous global user base, the Web has been abuzz with discussion of the outage and its impact. Here’s a roundup of some of the notable analysis and commentary:

  • GigaOm – Skype is one of the key applications of the modern web. It has become a major telephony provider. For the first six months of 2010, Skype had 6.4 million billing minutes versus 10.7 billion minutes during entire 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.
  • Faster Forward (Washington Post) – Do not rely on Skype’s own “heartbeat” system-status page, which reports that everything is working fine except for a text-messaging issue reported on Dec. 16. FYI to Skype management: You might want to update that page a little more often
  • Cloud Avenue – There are people who are eager to see (Skype) fail because of their political or business interests. Skype has already responded about the downtime and, in spite of their reasoning, the talk about “the cloud fail” continues to spread. I thought I will do a quick post to highlight the FUD as a public service message.
  • AllThingsD – Maybe the company was just trying to reinforce its warning that Skype is not a replacement for the telephone in an emergency. Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of conversation the company was seeking to spark as it tries to build momentum for a pending stock offering.
  • Mashable – Last month, Skype hit a new usage record, hosting 25 million people on its service concurrently, speaking to both the ubiquity of the service and the problem created when it goes down.
  • Digits (Wall Street Journal) – Downtime is a potentially huge problem for Internet services like Skype, which have made an effort to convince users that they’re as stable as traditional carriers. The service is known for being relatively reliable, with its last major outage in August 2007.

If any of our readers are familiar with mega-supernodes, please feel free to share your insight in the comments.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Outages, such as Skype's today, always tend to highlight our dependencies on technology. As a small business owner, I found the perfect business solution with Skype, very affordable nation-wide long-distance, and an online collaboration medium. The IM / phone service combination is perfect for my needs. I was completely cut off from my Skype contacts today, but have backup systems with Yahoo and Google. It pays not to have all of your eggs in one basket.

  2. If you have worked with networks beyond ordering a circuit from a service provider, you know that network expansion and upgrades can fail for the most minute reasons. Even something so innocuous as version differences in the firmware embedded on network cards can take a network can take down. No matter how hard we try, no matter what level of network and system integration testing we do, we are always going to fall short every now and then. I think Skype is an incredible product, with an incredible track record. The very existence of Skype put pressure on business of all types to consider VoIP as a viable technology. Focus on the positive!