Skypes two-day-plus outage in August was caused by, of all things, Microsofts Patch Tuesday. But the outage has served as an excellent reminder that Skype is an “as you can get it service,” with no additional protections for business-class users and accounts that may already pay the most for the service.
During the outage, Skype provided a bare minimum of information about the root cause of the problem. Company representatives quickly assured users that the outage was not caused by scheduled maintenance to the billing system (which had been completed the day before the service interruption), nor had the network experienced any form of malicious attack.
Rather, they blamed an unspecified algorithm problem with the Skype networking software that has affected the client sign-on process.
In the end, it turned out that Skypes infrastructure failed the stadium flush test, as Microsofts most recent Patch Tuesday triggered the outage when too many Skype-enabled computers were rebooted around the globe in the same time period.
A lack of peer-to-peer resources on the network, an oncoming wave of log-in requests as the patched systems came back online and a heretofore-unknown software glitch combined to keep Skypes self-healing algorithms from automatically resolving the problem.
In the wake of these findings, what becomes clear is that despite the remarkable resilience Skype has shown over the last few years, the sign-on/authentication process—the most centralized component of the network—is a susceptible bottleneck that can bring down the entire network. In addition, although Skype officials have uncovered the bug in the resource allocation algorithm, there is no guarantee this problem wont occur again.
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But what I have found most disappointing about this failure is that it has conclusively proved there is no separation of services when it comes to business-class versus individual accounts using the Skype service, as both types were affected equally during this outage.
While Skype does not have a great track record catering to the needs of business users, it has made moves during the last year to improve account management, centrally control Skype services across a companys network and lock out the use of certain features. But the next step in Skypes evolution toward business adoption needs to be an additional layer of fail-safe redundancy for those customers paying the most to use the service, plus separation of log-in and accounting services from standard users.
Certainly, such changes would lead to more costs for business customers. The question would then be whether such additional stability would be worth the additional costs, or whether another alternative may become more attractive.
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