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Skype taking down your network agosto 17, 2007

Posted by linuxiano in connessione, Linux, p2p, Uncategorized.
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Side note: According to the Skype RSS data feed, right now 174086 user are online. That less than 10% of the usual numbers, isn’t it? To me, that’s more than a few users.

Skype is harmful. Here’s the explantaion why:

Skype uses P2P technology where it is not needed. There are parts of VoIP where it does make sense (when a direct connection is possible, transfer the data directly between clients), but pretty much any VoIP software does that.

And there are parts, where it doesn’t make sense. This includes not accessing the login servers directly, but trying to use other Skype users as proxies.

Now what I’ve seen happening in some networks is the following: Skype fails to login directly, so it starts connecting random peers it has seen before. It keeps a list of 200 peers for that in the registry. So when it fails to connect, it will try contacting these 200 peers instead. Now if you have multiple users sharing your connection, let’s say 10 and a cheap router with limited memory, 2000 connections is a lot to keep track of. It might start losing other connections. Such as your mail an web connections.

This is exactly what I’ve seen today: the internet connection becoming pretty much unuseable (single packets would work fine, but not TCP/IP transfers of more than a few kb). When we found out it might be due to Skype malfunctioning, and gave the order for everyone to shut down Skype (which didn’t work anyway, so people quickly complied), Internet became useable again. Let me emphasize that: it wasn’t a bandwidth issue, but it was just the sheer number of connections opened by Skype that caused more important connections to be dropped by the routers.

So why is Skype not using proper servers, like MSN, AIM and ICQ do? Because they’re cheapskates. It’s cheaper for them to let others use your bandwidth instead of having to provide enough to handle all the data. The other reason is that it’s harder for system administrators to deny access to Skype, if any other Skype user can proxy your access to the actual login server. But if you want/need a central user registry, you can’t rely on a true P2P system. It’s bound to get disconnected at some point.

And yes, this especially means that Skype is not a good idea in a corporate environment with a large number of users. The skype approach works well for a single user at home, but the Skype networking behaviour can take down your routers if you have too many users running Skype at the same time. Other software choices, such as the standardized, vendor independant SIP protocol for VoIP, however would even allow you to setup a proper VoIP telephone system, with conference rooms, complex call routing, dictionaries, callback, routing to ATM or mobiles, complex voice mail systems, you name it. Skype is designed for single home users, not for company use.

P.S. Am I the only one who thinks the Skype UI is crap? No groups (at least not in my version, which is the latest there is for Linux), and totally idiotic button placement (like this ugly ‘add’ button I’m pretty much never ever, and a floding-up button next to it with the options, quit and recent chats (do they have anything in common?) hidden in there. How about using a menu bar like everybody else? How about organizing functionality in a human-comprehendable way?

P.P.S. What I guess has happened: somehow, most nodes (especially super nodes) got convined that the actual login servers are bad. As long, as some still had the connection, login still worked. At least sometimes (many probably experienced an unstable Skype connection before they could no longer login). But at a certain point, a large part of the network got separated from the login nodes and started routing requests around chaotically, trying to find the actual login server. The only way they have for fixing it, is slowly convincing and nodes on the perimeter of the P2P network about the proper location for the login servers, and that way spreading the correct information around again. Or shipping a new version which will re-inject this information in clients again. Just my guesses.

P.P.P.S. It would be interesting to know what had caused this. If it was some kind of subtle attack on the network. Like someone trying to convince supernodes that the login servers are bad and untrustworthy or something. Maybe just by sending spoofed bad data packets from the login servers IP or so.

P^4.S. Interesting graph on the number of Skype users logged in. Still going down.
by:Planet Debian

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