Consumer IT in the Workplace, Part II – Skype   1 comment

Just about everyone knows about the Skype outage of last week, caused by a combination of high volume and client machines rebooting due to Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday. Skype was quick to issue a mea culpa making a point of absolving Microsoft of any blame, awfully decent of them in light of how many companies throw blame around rather than admit to design flaws. Although there was a significant amount of public discomfort with the outage, for the most part it appears that most of the users aren’t going to discard using the low cost service due to reliability concerns.

Now, there’s plenty of blog traffic talking about this incident, just like the recent gmail outages. Someone parsing the titles of the blog entries would notice a larger percentage of negative responses than positive ones. This isn’t much of a surprise, really, since generally speaking people are more likely to blog about stuff they find irritating – so even though the blogosphere seems generally pretty angry about the Skype outage, the overall population of Skype users is taking it in stride. I digress – I’m not going to blog about Skype’s design problems (or lack thereof) or the problems with Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday policies here – what I find interesting about this outage is how it represents an absolute perfect example of Consumer IT in the Workplace.

Skype, itself, is not designed as what I would call an enterprise level service. The infrastructure supporting the service is essentially entirely P2P, which means that the service subscribers are more or less entirely dependent not upon some central Skype-run cluster of machines, but instead upon the machines of the userbase itself. As this incident shows, there are design considerations that are implicit in the model, and Skype’s Terms and Conditions reflects these limitations. That doesn’t mean that businesses can’t use Skype as a communications method (indeed, the low cost can be a major benefit to small companies and startups), but that the limitations of the service need to be taken into account, and the IT manager needs to keep track of the hidden costs to determine if the business is actually saving money.

I’m sure that during the Skype outage there were high priority emails and cell phone calls and text messages sent from Skype users to their organizational IT support. This is going to put stress your IT shop, particularly when “first contact” trouble reports may consist of something as nebulous as “the Internet isn’t working” or “My computer isn’t working”. Time is going to be spent tracking down what’s actually broken and why, and it may represent a significant amount of time before someone on your IT staff figures out that this is a known outage with the *service*, instead of a problem with your organization’s computers or network or internet service provider. If you’re the IT manager you need to log this sort of information – Skype isn’t as “low cost” as the monthly billing amount may lead your executives to believe. Like I said in the last post on Consumer IT, this doesn’t mean that using this technology is a bad idea (you may well still be saving a tidy sum of money), but if you’re not reviewing these costs and summarizing them and reporting them to your non-IT brethren in your organization, the rest of the organization doesn’t understand these costs.

(There is an additional consideration of expectation here, which I’ll get into some other day).


Posted August 27, 2007 by padraic2112 in management, tech

One response to “Consumer IT in the Workplace, Part II – Skype

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  1. Pingback: Downtime: Amazon S3 « Pat’s Daily Grind

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