Lessons from the Skype blackout

Skype is an instant messaging and telephony service which can be used free of charge. Or you can pay extra and cut the cost of conventional calls using SkypeOut. Other extras …

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27th August 2007 at 7:03 am

Skype is an instant messaging and telephony service which can be used free of charge. Or you can pay extra and cut the cost of conventional calls using SkypeOut. Other extras include SMS and and voicemails. Many small business users find the paid-for services extremely useful and, of course, cost-saving for themselves and their customers. Some people I know actually rejected their local telephony supplier and came to depend on Skype instead.

Imagine their horror when the service went off-air for a couple of days recently. They were trying to run their businesses and suddenly this major element of their communication disappeared. Here’s what Dennis Howlett had to say in his AccMan blog:

I rely on Skype for communications. They get my money in preference to Telefonica and up until yesterday they provided a good enough service.

He continues:

They say SkypeOut is working – it isn’t. It’s a shambles.

Skype buried the blame (a bug in its software) in a flurry of obfuscation – people downloading Microsoft updates and rebooting their machines being fairly misleading since this happens frequently. It was the introduction (or existence) of the Skype bug that meant it couldn’t cope. (The writer of the explanation is a PR man, which might tell you something.)

He said:

very few technologies or communications networks today are guaranteed to operate without interruptions.

For two days? And affecting tens of millions of people?

The key issue raised here is that if you depend on an internet-delivered service for a crucial aspect of your business, you’d better have contingency plans for when the service is not available. This won’t necessarily be the fault of the service supplier, it could be someone or something in the middle – your broadband provider or your ISP, for example. As we used to say at ICL, “if something can go wrnog it will.”

Many advocates of this online world are a bit starry-eyed. Perhaps the Skype debacle has taught them a much-needed lesson. You can be sure that Skype has learnt a lot and will be all the better for it.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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