Skype Saves Xmas — but what about the New Year?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for consumer VoIP services vendor Skype.

The Christmas holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for Skype with tens of millions of users around the world relying on the service to talk to friends and family. Beginning on December 22nd, Skype first reported that they were investigating user reports about disruptions to Skype services. The disruptions left millions of Skype users without access to VoIP audio or video calling. Full services including group video calling were not restored until December 24th, just in time for Christmas.

“Our engineering team and operations teams have worked very hard to bring back our services, and they are very dedicated, working through their holidays, to monitor and ensure Skype is available to you,” Skype CEO, Tony Bates wrote in a blog post. “Some of the outstanding areas our engineers are continuing to work on include bringing back offline IM and adding further robustness to the Skype infrastructure.”

So what happened?

According to Skype staffer Peter Parkes, the pre-Xmas disruption to Skype services was the result of a supernode failure. Parkes explained that Skype’s infrastructure relies on millions of connections backed up by supernode connections that act as directories for Skype connectivity.

“Under normal circumstances, there are a large number of supernodes available,” Parkes blogged. “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.”

In order to fix the problem, Skype engineers began the process of building new mega-supernodes in order to alleviate the traffic disruption. Skype has not yet provided a complete technical report on how or why their supernode structure failed.

“We now understand the cause of the problem and we believe it was not caused by a malicious attack,” Bates blogged. “But, we are still doing a full analysis and we will provide an in-depth post-mortem.”

As a gesture of good faith to Skype users, the company plans on sending pay-as-you-go Skype users a voucher for 30 minutes of free SkypeOut minutes. For subscribers to Skype’s services, the company plans on crediting users with a week of extra service.

Skype’s users aren’t the only ones that the VoIP vendor will need to placate. Skype is also being sued over alleged patent infringement related to the technology that might be behind the supernode structure. Gradient Enterprises filed a patent infringement suit against Skype on December 23rd in relation to U.S. patent number 7,669,207. That patent describes a, “method for detecting, reporting and responding to network node-level events and a system thereof.”

Overall 2010, was a busy year for Skype as it ramped up its enterprise credibility. In September, Skype announced a partnership with Avaya for integration with unified communications equipment. Skype also got a new CEO during the year, with the recruitement of former Cisco executive Tony Bates in October, to lead the VoIP services vendor.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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