Skype hits the skids, suffers extensive outage (updated after jump)
If you want to talk to any far-flung friends and family members today, you might want to give Skype a rest. The Internet-calling service is trying to recover from a system outage.
In a blog post on Wednesday, the Luxembourg company told users that many of the "supernode" computers in its peer-to-peer network had gone offline because of "a problem affecting some versions of Skype." That left many unable to go online and place a call, even when every other Internet program on their computers functioned normally.
On one machine, I couldn't even download Skype's software. My attempt was met with a message that "we are currently experiencing some problems with our network."
The post goes on to say that Skype engineers are setting up "new 'mega-supernodes' as fast as they can."
You can get updates on Skype's status via Twitter: twitter.com/skype. Unless, that is, a momentary Twitter glitch renders that account unavailable, as I noticed less than an hour ago when the status-update site served up its "Fail Whale" graphic instead of Skype's posts.
A tweet posted at about 3:30 p.m. Eastern time suggests that the service won't need to follow up on its "mega-supernodes" by deploying "uber-mega-supernodes":
Skype is now gradually returning to normal - we expect it may take several hours for everyone to be able to sign in again, however.
Do not, however, rely on Skype's own "heartbeat" system-status page, which reports that everything is working fine except for a text-messaging issue reported on Dec. 16. FYI to Skype management: You might want to update that page a little more often. It also wouldn't hurt to give it a more obvious address like, say, status.skype.com.
While Skype's out, you have other options. For free calls to U.S. phones -- and free voice and video chats with other Internet users anywhere -- try Google's Gmail calling. For communication between Macs and recent iPhones and iPod touch models, Apple's FaceTime is an easy option. And if you and your would-be conversation partner use the same instant-messaging service, remember that most of them provide free voice and video chat with their own programs.
Or you could, you know, just pick up a regular phone.
What's your Skype deprivation been like? When did you first notice an issue with the service?
12/23, 12:20 p.m. It's now been almost 24 hours later, and while most Skype users apparently can use the service, some still can't get the equivalent of a dial tone. (For example, Gartner tech analyst Michael Gartenberg tweeted an hour ago that the service was "still very much down" for him.)
We do, however, have a little more clarity about the outage. Skype's Heartbeat system-status page now has a vague acknowledgment of "problems signing in," and its main blog reported earlier today an increase in the number of Skype users online to maybe 10 million.
The best update on the outage, however, comes in GigaOM's Om Malik's interview with Skype chief executive Tony Bates. In the piece, posted about 45 minutes ago, Bates says about 16.5 million users are now back online, almost two-thirds of the 25 million normally on the service at any one time, but some services--for instance, group video calling--remain offline. The CEO also pledges to offer compensation to users who pay for extra features such as calling to conventional phone lines.
But what exactly set off the failure? Bates points to a glitch in one of Skype's calling programs: "A handful of Windows clients failed and set-off a chain reaction that brought down Skype."
For a background briefing on Skype, you should also read a good, if somewhat speculative, explainer written by Dan York, director of conversations at the Internet-calling firm Voxeo.
12/23, 2:24 p.m. Bates has posted a video on YouTube, in which he relates the same points he made in the GigaOM interview and apologizes "profusely" for the inconvenience.
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