Although access has now been restored, Skype engineers are still coming to grips with the outage that knocked the VoIP telephone service offline this week. In a Friday status announcement time-stamped 1100 GMT, Skype's Villu Arak said: "An encouraging number of users can now use Skype once again. We know we're not out of the woods yet, but we are in better shape now than we were yesterday."
A day later, the post on Skype's home page, said: "Take a deep breath. Skype is back to normal." The Saturday 1100 GMT post said that on Monday the company will provide a more detailed explanation of what happened. "Until then," Skype told users, "we'd like to apologize and thank you. Precisely in that order," adding that they know "how difficult and frustrating the past two days have been."
While the full explanation is expected on Monday, earlier communiques indicated the shutdown was a result of a "deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software, [which] controls the interaction between the user's ... client and the rest of the Skype network."
Vulnerability of P2P
In a post on his GigaOM blog, Om Malik, a longtime reporter on the VoIP beat, said that the outage shows the vulnerability of the peer-to-peer infrastructure that Skype relies on. "If you are going to build a mass market consumer service on P2P and use authentication servers or add layers on top of the basic architecture, then you are on shaky ground and need to build in some sort of redundancy," Malik wrote.
He added that entrepreneurs and venture capitalists depending on peer-to-peer should take the Skype outage as an "early warning on the fragility of the whole P2P ecosystem."
But the outage is not an indictment of the peer-to-peer infrastructure, Tim Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, told us. "In reality we've had peer-to-peer around for a long time." The problem, he said, "is not peer-to-peer, it's the stability of the back end." The shutdown appears to have occurred when Skype made changes to back-end software.
Will Skype Users Jump Ship?
"I fully believe that Skype will correct the problem and make sure it doesn't happen again," Bajarin said. "The whole concept of VoIP and its value proposition make it in an indispensable tool."
The outage will not cause Skype users to abandon the system, he said. "It's so valuable that no one is going to give it up. They're going to apply a lot of pressure to Skype and eBay [Skype's parent company] to make sure it never happens again."
Plain old telephone service -- for business people making international calls, especially -- remains too expensive compared to Skype, Bajarin said. "POTS will continue to be used only as a backup. The value proposition of Skype is so solid that people won't give it up if it can be corrected."
A Lack of Information
But users commenting on Skype's Friday GMT1100 post, were showing rising irritation with the problem and with the company for not being more forthcoming. "It would be helpful if you posted a note regarding the outage on your HOME PAGE. I found out about the outage through MSNBC," one user wrote.
"I use Skype for my business. I don't have another phone system. The lack of communication and "hiding" of the problem is so wrong from a business communications standpoint," wrote another.
"If AT&T, BT or Deutsche Telekom said that their problems would be resolved in '12 - 24 hours', they'd be out of business tomorrow," another user wrote. "eBay is under pressure to generate more revenue from Skype -- this is a step backwards."
While the Saturday post on Skype's home page thanks users for the support and good wishes that "kept flowing in" throughout the crisis, it will be interesting to see how Skype recovers from this two-day disaster.