Skype suffers several hours of downtime

Ronny Kerr · December 22, 2010 · Short URL:

Supernode overload! Millions of Skype users still cannot access all of the service's features

You don’t know what you got until it’s gone. It’s a classic cliche that actually seems a whole lot truer on the Internet. When Facebook suffers a server outage, you realize you’ve been wasting hours reading mundane status updates and looking through endless photos of vacations you wish you could be on. When Twitter throws you the fail whale, you miss out on news in real-time, sure, but you still get the news somewhere else eventually. When Skype goes down, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do. Use a real phone?

Skype support

Millions of users are dealing with this very issue at the moment, as Skype’s service has been down for several hours, though it is slowly recovering from the outage.

Earlier, this was the only official statement on Skype’s support site:

We are aware that some people are currently encountering difficulties signing in to Skype. Rest assured, we are working hard to fix this. In the meantime, we apologise for any inconvenience this may be causing you.

Skype later added a more-detailed explanation of what happened to its service, reproduced at the bottom of this post.

Problems seem to have started early Wednesday morning for users, and Skype first acknowledged the issue on its Twitter account around 9:30 PST. A couple hours later, the support team seemed to have the issue figured out, but it will still be awhile before full Skype functionality returns to all users.

Interestingly, Skype says it was already investigating to see if there were problems with the service even before widespread complaints had been submitted. The company knew something was amiss when the number of people online began falling at unexpected rates. Skype, more than any other messaging application (iChat, Facebook Chat, etc.), is widely used for work-related purposes, so it’s good to know that the company takes itself seriously enough to constantly monitor usage rates.

Here’s the technical explanation of went down today, for the curious:

Skype isn’t a network like a conventional phone or IM network – instead, it relies on millions of individual connections between computers and phones to keep things up and running. Some of these computers are what we call ‘supernodes’ – they act a bit like phone directories for Skype. If you want to talk to someone, and your Skype app can’t find them immediately (for example, because they’re connecting from a different location or from a different device) your computer or phone will first try to find a supernode to figure out how to reach them.

Under normal circumstances, there are a large number of supernodes available. Unfortunately, today, many of them were taken offline by a problem affecting some versions of Skype. As Skype relies on being able to maintain contact with supernodes, it may appear offline for some of you.

What are we doing to help? Our engineers are creating new ‘mega-supernodes’ as fast as they can, which should gradually return things to normal. This may take a few hours, and we sincerely apologise for the disruption to your conversations. Some features, like group video calling, may take longer to return to normal.

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