Can Skype ever become a good corporate citizen?

To date, Skype has existed outside of the usual corporate IT structure, offering individual connectivity. But Skype’s modus operandus is to “use its users” as relay points — rather than centralized servers. And as soon as the user plugs into the corporate net, that network also becomes a potential Skype resource. As such, Skype needs to do the diligence to become a good citizen on that network.

While attempts to prod Skype into changing its ways had little success when it was a stand-alone private company headquartered in Luxembourg, as a wholly owned unit of an American public company that likely will change. But what has to happen?

Essentially Skype need not actually change the way it does what it does, it just needs to clearly disclose its MO to the individual user, as well as start providing ways for corporate network managers to proactively manage the use and behavior of Skype resources (i.e., your laptop) when connected to the corporate network.

In response to my recent column outlining Skype’s peer-to-peer architecture, a reader involved in corporate converged networks wrote: “Delivering a consistently high-quality service seems problematic…as does any kind of debugging or troubleshooting…and most security types that I know aren’t exactly enamored by inviting applications [into their networks] that excel at concealing payloads and bypassing firewalls.”

While Skype has yet to turn its interests toward taking a corporate network view of what it offers, third parties have emerged to bridge the gap. Commercial peer-to-peer blockers are already available on the market.

Making corporations choose a “block” or “allow” strategy is probably not the best thing for Skype in the long run. Skype should consider working with third parties and providing its own tools to help network managers “see” its presence in their networks and, where they allow it to remain, be able to manage it by invoking limitations on which resources are used — bandwidth, CPU — in which machines. If the corporate network is contributing to Skype’s business by serving as a Skype resource (while also getting to use Skype), it should have some say over how its resources are used.

To the end user, Skype should clearly state in a splash screen that one’s computer can be used for purposes other than transmitting and receiving one’s own calls. Furthermore, it should provide real-time visibility to whatever “relay” functions one’s machine is being called on to deliver.

Another writer asked how I knew that some Skype calls from adjacent machines were routed a continent away and back. Not from Skype, that’s for sure. I had to harvest my information from tracing conversations and inspecting the resulting packet stream. It would, of course, be simple for Skype to include a real-time monitor to display the path that a conversation is traveling.

Furthermore, Skype’s configurability vis-a-vis “participation” in the peer network is virtually nil. When you are on your machine it is fair game for use. (Predecessor Kazaa did allow such configuration.) Perhaps Skype should consider allowing users to pay a fee to be able to configure their level of participation in the peer-to-peer networks. Free users wouldn’t have that feature.

The way is clear, but does Skype have the will to become a good corporate citizen?


–Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing company in Boca Raton, Fla. He can be reached

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