Skype Outage - Mountain, Meet Molehill

By tonyhughes Hughes, in , posted: 21-Aug-2007 17:39

A recent outage of the Skype internet phone service has drawn all sorts of criticism and commentary from all sectors - bloggers, journos, forums, traditional media, and others

It surprises me that so many people seem to rely on Skype - which is essentially a proprietary internet based voice calling system.

Dont get me wrong - its a great system, I use it myself all the time. Great for calls overseas and insanely low prices, it has basic IM functions, presence and some pretty cool calling features. But the outage simply did not affect me.



Anyone whom I need to maintain constant contact with, I have multiple contact methods for. I have a cellphone, which can make calls worldwide from nearly anywhere, I have a copper landline, which almost never gets used, and I also have several SIP based VoIP accounts, including VFX, Gizmo, FWD and others. Many services are free, some are commercial (but stupidly cheap anyway).

The Line (a NZ Telecommunications news publication) proclaims "Skype outage hits business confidence in VoIP", which is a worrying sign that despite VoIPs alomost mainstream status these days, those in the business market selling VoIP (or integrating it) are not educating their clients as to what VoIP actually is, how it works, what it does, what it can achieve, and what its strengths are. Anyone who has an ounce of knowledge around these concepts will understand that Skype does not equal VoIP (Skype != VoIP), and that good quality business VoIP phone systems with some redundant methods of trunking will not be bought down on a massive scale in their entirety, like the recent pesky Skype service issues.

I really do think that Skype is to VoIP, as Hotmail is to email. That is to say, that the masses usually cut their teeth on Skype, and suddenly believe they are experts on VoIP, having only experienced a small taste of what could be.

A Hotmail website outage, for all those people who strictly use webmail, would be disastrous - they would have no service at all. But then think about an enterprise-level Exchange Server implementation, in a data center with redundant connections through multiple providers to the internet, and how different that is to a simple webmail service, and how much less vulnerable that system would be to being totally useless if a simple issue prevented website access. So you have it with VoIP. In essence,

Skype is just a superficially simple system (and therein lies its value and popularity/uptake), but to cite a Skype outage as a source of confidence drain in business VoIP systems highlights the total lack of awareness the non-technical business community really has.

Also surprising is the amount of coverage this has received... a few million Skype users go down (many of them will be non-paying users simply taking advantage of free Skype to Skype calling), and the world comes to a standstill, but when major telcos in developed nations have large outages that not only affect voice calling, but internet services as well (which networks like Skype rely on to function), it barely makes the news in many cases.

The internet is becoming too PC, just like the rest of the world, and people are too quick to jump on the latest bandwagon going round, and join in bagging the latest service to have what essentially amounts to a hiccup in service.

Why would anyone expect a service like Skype to be faultless? It relies on peers to pass traffic around, and not all data gos through dedicated centralised servers at all times. Add to that fact that its insanely cheap, and you should probably expect to see more outages than this.

I have experienced far more MSN Messenger outages over the years that Skype ones, but wheres the press - especially given that people seem to love bagging Microsoft, an MSN outage doesnt hit world headlines!

Get aware. Get more than one service. Get off the bandwagon. Think for yourself, and perhaps you will see that so many articles doing the rounds bagging the Skype service is just adding noise to already devalued internet. Its almost spam really. Im sure Skypes competitors are only to happy to talk about the outage - but what about all the teething problems other internet voice calling systems have experienced at one stage or another.

Heck, even the most expensive services I pay for have outages. It would worry me if one of the cheapest services I use didnt have an outage now again.

Rock on Skype. Lovin' ya service and forgivin' ya outage.


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Comment by muppet, on 21-Aug-2007 20:43

"It surprises me that so many people seem to rely on Skype - which is essentially a proprietary internet based voice calling system." It does? It doesn't surprise me, it packages up a VoIP service into an easy-to-use client that just works, no hardware and no configuration required. "Dont get me wrong - its a great system, I use it myself all the time. Great for calls overseas and insanely low prices, it has basic IM functions, presence and some pretty cool calling features. But the outage simply did not affect me." So do you use it or not? If you actually use it, I can't understand why it being down wouldn't affect you. It affected me, I couldn't IM a lot of people I was hoping to, so had to resort to other means to contact them. I could _still_ contact them, but I was affected in that I had to go via another route to talk to them. The Skype outage seriously affected those who use it for running a small business and those who use it for the SkypeIN service. "The Line (a NZ Telecommunications news publication) proclaims "Skype outage hits business confidence in VoIP", which is a worrying sign that despite VoIPs alomost mainstream status these days, those in the business market selling VoIP (or integrating it) are not educating their clients as to what VoIP actually is, how it works, what it does, what it can achieve, and what its strengths are." Actually I'm sure those in the business are, but the reports were in the media, not from businesses in the VoIP market. You've been alive long enough to know the Media loves a beat up, facts be damned. Of course Skype isn't enterprise VoIP, but no newspaper is going to bother explaining that to their readers, they'd fall asleep. "Anyone who has an ounce of knowledge around these concepts will understand that Skype does not equal VoIP (Skype != VoIP), and that good quality business VoIP phone systems with some redundant methods of trunking will not be bought down on a massive scale in their entirety, like the recent pesky Skype service issues." Are you saying Skype isn't a VoIP product? I totally disagree with that, Skype is a VoIP product. Sure it's not standards based, interoperable or enterprise grade, but it's still a VoIP solution. It's Voice, over IP. Your number (if you have SkypeIN) follows you around everywhere and you can check your Voicemail from anywhere. The reason that the Skype outage got so much attention is exactly because it's not a small, enterprise grade solution. "I really do think that Skype is to VoIP, as Hotmail is to email." Agree. Easy to understand and 99% of the time they just work. Thus they both get a lot of coverage when they go down because so many people are affected by it. "That is to say, that the masses usually cut their teeth on Skype, and suddenly believe they are experts on VoIP, having only experienced a small taste of what could be." I've yet to meet anyone that's used Skype that thinks they're an expert on VoIP. Most people seem to think it's a magical program and are amazed at how it works. Can you please enlighten us what the bigger taste people are missing is? "A Hotmail website outage, for all those people who strictly use webmail, would be disastrous - they would have no service at all. But then think about an enterprise-level Exchange Server implementation, in a data center with redundant connections through multiple providers to the internet, and how different that is to a simple webmail service, and how much less vulnerable that system would be to being totally useless if a simple issue prevented website access. So you have it with VoIP. In essence," I don't understand your point. Hotmail has everything you've mentioned in your enterprise solution: multiple providers, redundant connections, multiple locations. Hotmail is your enterprise solution scaled up in a massive way. "Skype is just a superficially simple system (and therein lies its value and popularity/uptake)" What exactly is superficially simple about it? That it's so easy to setup? Certainly the network topology it uses isn't simple. In fact it's still not fully understood by anyone but Skype, though many have tried to understand it. I don't think easy to use means it's "simple" in the way you've made it sound. "but to cite a Skype outage as a source of confidence drain in business VoIP systems highlights the total lack of awareness the non-technical business community really has." The thing is though, because Skype is so easy to use a lot of small businesses are using it for their VoIP needs. Agreed it's not a reflection of the state of enterprise VoIP, but again the mainstream media doesn't want to have to draw that distinction, it's not as good of a story. "Also surprising is the amount of coverage this has received... a few million Skype users go down (many of them will be non-paying users simply taking advantage of free Skype to Skype calling), and the world comes to a standstill, but when major telcos in developed nations have large outages that not only affect voice calling, but internet services as well (which networks like Skype rely on to function), it barely makes the news in many cases." It's just a simple case of people enjoy seeing the mighty fall. I don't think anyone claimed the world came to a standstill, just that people were annoyed as they had to get out their "old" means of communications. "The internet is becoming too PC, just like the rest of the world, and people are too quick to jump on the latest bandwagon going round, and join in bagging the latest service to have what essentially amounts to a hiccup in service." It's human nature, pure and simple. I'm curious as to what you think should happen when something like the Skype outage occurs? "Why would anyone expect a service like Skype to be faultless? It relies on peers to pass traffic around, and not all data gos through dedicated centralised servers at all times. Add to that fact that its insanely cheap, and you should probably expect to see more outages than this." Insanely cheap for the end user, yes. But millions of end users is a lot of cash for Skype. I don't think anyone expected or expects Skype to be faultless, but a 48+ hour outage is fairly impressive for a service that had been fairly rock solid up until that point. The fact that everyone suddenly noticed Skype was down is a testament to just how stable it's been over the last couple of years. "I have experienced far more MSN Messenger outages over the years that Skype ones, but wheres the press - especially given that people seem to love bagging Microsoft, an MSN outage doesnt hit world headlines!" Because like you said, outages happen so much more often it's really a non-event. Having said that, I'm sure if MSN was down for 48+ hours, it'd make the tech sites. "Get aware. Get more than one service. Get off the bandwagon. Think for yourself, and perhaps you will see that so many articles doing the rounds bagging the Skype service is just adding noise to already devalued internet." Who exactly is this paragraph aimed at? Are you trying to insult your readers, or chiding the media? Get aware of what? I have more than one service, I have Skype, a landline and a mobile. What bandwagon? I'm so confused! "Im sure Skypes competitors are only to happy to talk about the outage - but what about all the teething problems other internet voice calling systems have experienced at one stage or another." Yes, what about them? Are you lamenting the fact they don't get as much coverage? Skype got the massive coverage it did because it's the current leader. If/when those other companies become as well relied on as Skype is, I'm sure they'll get their share of coverage when they fail. "Heck, even the most expensive services I pay for have outages. It would worry me if one of the cheapest services I use didnt have an outage now again. Rock on Skype. Lovin' ya service and forgivin' ya outage." Indeed. An interesting post, but reading it a few times I can't figure out if you're annoyed at the coverage the outage got because it's been compared to enterprise VoIP, or if you think people are stupid to be affected because they don't have a backup. To me the whole post smacks a little of "I understand VoIP much more than most people" (which there's no doubt you do) "and *I* wasn't affected because Skype's a toy and I use other, better VoIP products"


Author's note by tonyhughes, on 21-Aug-2007 21:18

"It does? It doesn't surprise me, it packages up a VoIP service into an easy-to-use client that just works, no hardware and no configuration required."

It was the reliance I was surprised about.

"So do you use it or not? If you actually use it, I can't understand why it being down wouldn't affect you.
It affected me, I couldn't IM a lot of people I was hoping to, so had to resort to other means to contact them. I could _still_ contact them, but I was affected in that I had to go via another route to talk to them."

Exactly - everyone I wanted to contact, I had alternate means to, and switching to those means was simply a different set of the same sort of mouse clicks (or pick up the cellphone).

"The Skype outage seriously affected those who use it for running a small business and those who use it for the SkypeIN service."

I would seriously think twice about relying on an overseas in-the-cloud service, with no real local presence for my critical business communications. It just doesnt make sense. I would happily use it for cost reduction, but not my primary point of contact for critical things.

"Actually I'm sure those in the business are, but the reports were in the media, not from businesses in the VoIP market.
You've been alive long enough to know the Media loves a beat up, facts be damned. Of course Skype isn't enterprise VoIP, but no newspaper is going to bother explaining that to their readers, they'd fall asleep."

Fair call. I pretty much agree with you there.

"Are you saying Skype isn't a VoIP product?"

No, I am echoing the sentiment that Skype and VoIP are not an identical set. Skype is a tiny sub-set of VoIP. VoIP should not be measured using Skype as a ruler.

"(me: I really do think that Skype is to VoIP, as Hotmail is to email.)
Agree. Easy to understand and 99% of the time they just work. Thus they both get a lot of coverage when they go down because so many people are affected by it."

Wooohooo... an agreement point.

"I've yet to meet anyone that's used Skype that thinks they're an expert on VoIP. Most people seem to think it's a magical program and are amazed at how it works."

I meet heaps. Come to the bay and wander round for a while with a Skype t-shirt on or something...

"Can you please enlighten us what the bigger taste people are missing is?"

Good quality interactions between staff and systems, with VoIP integrated with key IT systems (CRM, billing, Active Directory, etc etc), delivering timely information to users, integrating terminal and telephone hotdesking in single smart logon interfaces and so much more.

"I don't understand your point. Hotmail has everything you've mentioned in your enterprise solution: multiple providers, redundant connections, multiple locations.
Hotmail is your enterprise solution scaled up in a massive way."

This was intended to be from a users perspective. Hotmail is 'just a web page', and if that web page is down, they are pretty much stuffed, with no alternative. An in-house decent class of mail system will usually have multiple paths to access it for a user, and 'local' support is available (its not just a case of sit and wait till your access returns, you can call a helpdesk).

"(me:Skype is just a superficially simple system (and therein lies its value and popularity/uptake))
What exactly is superficially simple about it? That it's so easy to setup? Certainly the network topology it uses isn't simple. In fact it's still not fully understood by anyone but Skype, though many have tried to understand it.
I don't think easy to use means it's "simple" in the way you've made it sound."

Again, from the users perspective of download it, run it, register your username and start talking. So it appears, superficially, to be very simple. Much more simple than say, connecting a brand new line through Telecom, Vodafone, Orcon, or Telstraclear.

"I'm curious as to what you think should happen when something like the Skype outage occurs?"

Im just surprised at the sheer volume of noise it created. Thats all.

"Insanely cheap for the end user, yes. But millions of end users is a lot of cash for Skype. I don't think anyone expected or expects Skype to be faultless, but a 48+ hour outage is fairly impressive for a service that had been fairly rock solid up until that point. The fact that everyone suddenly noticed Skype was down is a testament to just how stable it's been over the last couple of years."

Agreed. Like I said, Im surprised their has not been more outages.

"(me:Get aware. Get more than one service. Get off the bandwagon. Think for yourself, and perhaps you will see that so many articles doing the rounds bagging the Skype service is just adding noise to already devalued internet.)
Who exactly is this paragraph aimed at? Are you trying to insult your readers, or chiding the media? Get aware of what?"

It was a throwaway line, thinking out loud. Its aimed at whoever chooses to read it. No, I am not trying to insult my readers, I am challenging people to see past the opinion of the masses, and actually form one of their own. Chiding the media is always good.

"What bandwagon? I'm so confused!"

The bandwagon of nailing Skype over an isolated outage (despite its length). Skype has served its community and its clients well. No service is without faults, its just not reasonable to expect so.

"An interesting post, but reading it a few times I can't figure out if you're annoyed at the coverage the outage got because it's been compared to enterprise VoIP, or if you think people are stupid to be affected because they don't have a backup."

A little of both perhaps? Im not sure that a blog post must be about one angle only.

"To me the whole post smacks a little of "I understand VoIP much more than most people" (which there's no doubt you do) "and *I* wasn't affected because Skype's a toy and I use other, better VoIP products"

Not so much *I* understand VoIP better than most, but more, "Heres my opinion" which is really what blogging is about (for me). Skype is not a toy. Its a cool, valuable service. But with no guarantees of service, despite no previous major outages that I am aware of, I still didnt put all my eggs in the Skype basket. And with so many good, free, (and open source) alternatives, I dont see why anyone could or should not be prepared to lose Skype at any time, and still function as per normal.

Thankyou for your comments.


Comment by ujmi, on 21-Aug-2007 21:54

Nice article. And very good point. But after all isn't this what common people do all the time. Like not everyone who uses Skype is supposed to be a computer savvy to understand the world around the Skype.


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