Skype blames outage on ‘supernode’ problem

Internet telephony giant Skype blamed its peer-to-peer interconnection systemfor a problem that some reports said resulted in millions of users being unable to make calls using the service on Wednesday.

According to an official blog post the Skype network uses what it calls “supernodes” which act as directories for finding users online. On Wednesday many of these supernodes were taken offline by a problem affecting some versions of Skype, the company said.

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“Our engineers are creating new ‘mega-supernodes’ as fast as they can, which should gradually return things to normal,” the company blog post said, adding that it may be several hours before the service returns to normal. Services such as group video calling may be offline longer.

In a status update, the company noted that “Enterprise products including Skype Connect and Skype Manager continue to function normally.”

Reliably serving paying corporate customers is considered key to the success of the company, which is preparing for an initial public offering. The majority of Skype users pay nothing to use the service.

A major Skype outage affected up to 10 million users on Wednesday afternoon, and things are just now returning to normal.

Skype confirmed on Twitter that service was down, at least for users who weren’t already signed in. “Some of you may have problems signing in to Skype – we’re investigating, and we’re sorry for the disruption to your conversations,” the company wrote Wednesday afternoon.

Skype then added the following: “Our engineers and site operations team are working non-stop to get things back to normal – thanks for your continued patience.”

ReadWriteWeb reports that the Skype outage affected at least 10 million users, but was limited to people who weren’t already signed into the service. “If you’re already signed in, you should be able to continue using Skype as normal,” spokesman Peter Parkes said.

As GigaOM points out, although Skype is a peer-to-peer service, and therefore shouldn’t go down on a grand scale, the service relies on a huge infrastructure for authentication and linking to traditional phone networks. That an outage can affect so many users of a major Internet communications service is troubling.

At the time of this posting, Skype’s Twitter account states that the service is returning to normal–though they expect it will take several hours for everyone to be able to sign in again.

For kicks, here’s a brief history of other popular Web services that saw major outages recently: Paypal went down after a networking hardware failure in November; Yahoo suffered an outage that brought down its home page and search service in October; Facebook fell twice in a 24-hour period in September; and Comcast’s entire Internet service along the east coast went down in late November.

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