Skype Apologizes For Massive Outage — Millions Affected Worldwide

December 23, 2010 0

San Francisco — Internet telephony giant Skype suffered an outage lasting several hours with millions of users around the globe have been hit by an outage Wednesday when the prominent internet telephony system was disrupted by a massive glitch.

The company which prides itself on delivering relatively reliable service last suffered a major outage in 2007. Millions of Skype users globally could not make calls — or were dropped in mid-conversation — because of a network connection failure that began about 9 a.m. Wednesday PST. Users as far afield as Japan, Europe and the US have all reported problems.

This outage marks the second time this year that the popular, low-priced calling service has suffered with a major outage, and this one was more widespread than the two-day disruption in 2007.

Skype issued an apology for the outage, which incapacitated millions of people who were unable to log on to the service or connect to any of their contacts and that the program is crashing across all platforms, whether on their mobile device or PC.

“We take outages like this pretty seriously and apologize for the inconvenience users are having,” Tony Bates, Skype chief executive officer, said in a statement.

“Right now it seems like users’ are coming on and offline and occasionally they are collapsing in the middle of calls. We are deep in the middle of investigating the cause of the problem and have teams working hard to rectify the situation,” Bates said.

In a blog post, Skype explained that the problem seems to have originated in the service’s peer-to-peer system, in which some users’ computers are used as “supernodes” to help the application connect with users had been taken offline by an unidentified problem affecting some versions of Skype.

On Skype’s Twitter account, the company said their “engineers and site operations team are working non-stop to get things back to normal”.

“Under normal circumstances, there are a vast number of “supernodes” available. Unfortunately, today, many of them were taken offline by a problem affecting some versions of Skype,” the company said in a web posting.

“Our engineers are creating new “mega-supernodes” as swiftly as they can, which should gradually return things to normal. This may take a few hours, and we sincerely apologize for the disruption to your conversations — thanks for your continued patience,” Luxembourg-based Skype said in a message on its Twitter feed @Skype.

“This may take a few hours, and we sincerely apologize for the interruption to your conversations,” Skype said. “Some features, like group video calling, may take longer to return to normal.”

“For a gigantic communications system this large to go down, it is almost unheard of,” said Charles S. Golvin, a Forrester Research analyst. “Usually when phone lines are disrupted, the blackout is confined to a specific geographical area. This is worldwide.”

The service disrupted millions of users around the globe and many took to Twitter to complain about the outage in a variety of languages:

“Holy crap. end of the world… #skype is down,” wrote Rafael Otero on his Twitter feed @rotero.

“Ugh. #skype went down when I was in the middle of a call,” said Carly-Anne Fairlie on @carlyannedotcom.

Technology blogger Om Malik, commenting on his blog GigaOm.com, said the outage was a serious issue for a company that is “starting to ask larger corporations for their business.”

“If I am a big business, I would be extremely cautious about adopting Skype for business, especially in the light of this current outage,” Malik said, adding that Skype “needs to ensure that it does not go down. Even for a few minutes.”

Certainly, in the past too, there have been network breakdowns occurred to auction site eBay and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but the impact was not as great as Skype, Golvin said.

“With those sort of disruptions, people have alternatives or they can wait it out,” he said. “But with something like this — and you need to communicate with someone — it is far more significant.”

In a blog post, Skype said it first noticed a problem when the number of people on the website dropped off. It “was not typical or expected, so we began to investigate,” it said.

“Skype is not a network like a conventional phone or IM network — instead, it depends on millions of individual connections between computers and phones to keep things up and running,” the post said. “Unfortunately, today, many of them were taken offline.”

Skype, which was founded in 2003, bypasses the standard telephone network by channeling voice, video and text conversations over the Internet. The Luxembourg-based internet telephony company prides itself on the robustness of its network, with its last major outage in 2007. But with the company increasingly positioning itself as a corporate communications tool, Wednesday’s snafu could be damaging.

“Skype is one of the key applications of the modern web,” said Malik. “It is already very popular with users, and since the past few years it has claimed to become the economic fabric for start-ups and small businesses worldwide. I am not sure we can comprehend the productivity cost of this outage,” added Malik.

But the outage in many areas lasted into the night. The company disclosed plans in August to raise up to 100 million dollars in shares by listing on the Nasdaq stock exchange.