In one of the most incredible cases of I did not do it syndrome, eBay owned VoIP supremo Skype has denied that it was at fault over the system outage which started on Thursday 16th August and prevented the vast majority of its users from being able to login to the peer-to-peer voice network for 48 hours.
In an official statement, Skype claims that the disruption was "triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update. The abnormally high number of restarts affected Skype's network resources. This caused a flood of log-in requests, which, combined with the lack of peer-to-peer network resources, prompted a chain reaction that had a critical impact."
Right, so the Windows Update from the last Patch Tuesday which required a system reboot somehow is to blame for the inability of Skype's network to cope? A network, remember, that has always coped before. Patch Tuesday, and Windows user reboots, are not a new phenomena.
The truth of the matter is revealed some way further down the Skype statement, which admits that a "previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm" prevented the peer-to-peer network self-healing function from working properly.
OK, let's run that past you again: lots of people updated their Windows OS and rebooted, this caused them to have to reconnect to Skype rather than staying logged in, this caused Skype to fall over because of a bug in the Skype network resource allocation software, this took two days to recover from and a further two days for Skype to publish a mealy mouthed 300 word response which pretty much says "Bill Gates did it."
And Microsoft is to blame, not Skype, how exactly?
Despite that miniature statement wasting words to assure us, categorically no less, that no malicious activities were attributed and that users' security was never at any risk at any point, this would seem to provide cold comfort to those 220 million users, 65 million of whom are businesses, which suddenly found themselves without the cheap telephone service they have come to rely upon.
"We would like to point out that very few technologies or communications networks today are guaranteed to operate without interruptions" say Skype. Well that's OK then, so not only was it not your fault but plenty of other people have service interruptions. I guess it us that should be apologizing to Skype, not the other way around. Fancy getting annoyed by a 48 hour system outage, what were we thinking? Would it not have been better to come clean ASAP with an apology and a full disclosure hands-up 'it was out fault but we have fixed it' statement?
It is interesting to note that none of the SIP based peer-to-peer VoIP services fell over due to the Windows Update last week.
Could this be because SIP is more fault tolerant than the SuperNodes system employed by Skype P2P? Quite patently, the answer would appear to be yes. After all, a SuperNodes system is reliant upon customers and not in-house servers for traffic handling. As Skype discovered, when the SuperNodes ship sails in stormy waters as far as network stability is concerned, there is nobody at the helm to take control. While the use of customer computers as SuperNodes has allowed Skype to grow rapidly and keep costs down, it has also exposed a weakness that most users were unaware of until now. That weakness is double-headed, in that there is no real direct in-house control over SuperNodes because they are the computers that you and I use at home, but also when the ships have sunk it takes longer to get a new fleet out and sailing again because instead of firing up your own servers once more you have to wait for new SuperNodes to be indentified and added to the network once more.
Blogging on the issue, Ovum Analyst Mark Main suggests that the quality of service at Skype has been deteriorating recently and says "you still broadly get what you pay for in telecoms and there is a compromise users must accept in these relatively early days of VoIP-based voice services, especially with the free on-net services." Perhaps, but Skype is not a free on-net service entirely, and around 5 million people rely upon it to provide cheap as opposed to totally free telephony. Especially so in the business sector where the no such thing as a free lunch concept holds true, and many may just now be looking for an alternative place to eat. One which uses standards based telephony protocols such as SIP for example?
The real crunch for Skype, I suspect, will come down to whether any great number of those 200 million users who see it simply as being a free service and so expect it to be not so great on the audio quality, not so reliable as the landline, because it is free are angry enough to walk away and go elsewhere. If your expectations are already set pretty low, then a couple of days without the free calls is hardly going to be a big deal in the overall scheme of things.