Skype: What kind of infrastructure changes has Microsoft made?

Skype: What kind of infrastructure changes has Microsoft made?

Summary: Has Microsoft already begun making changes to Skype's P2P infrastructure? According to one report, Microsoft has begun moving in some Microsoft-hosted Linux boxes.


It's been one year since Microsoft announced plans to acquire Skype and seven months since regulatory bodies approved the transaction, enabling Microsoft to take control officially of the VOIP vendor.

According to Ars Technica, Microsoft already has made some significant tweaks to the back-end Skype infrastructure, "replacing peer-to-peer client machines with thousands of Linux boxes that have been hardened against the most common types of hack attacks." Ars is basing the report on a security researcher's findings; he claims the change happened two months ago.

I wondered last year if and when Microsoft would put its stamp on Skype's back-end systems. With prior acquisitions, Microsoft sometimes lets newly acquired companies continue to run the same hardware, software and services they've been using before a Redmond take-over. Usually, over time, however, Microsoft tends to try to align the infrastructure of companies they acquire with the rest of the servers powering the company's other business units.

Hotmail is a classic example. The Hotmail servers were running FreeBSD for years after Microsoft began attempting to move them to Windows 2000.

Shortly after Microsoft acquired Skype, I asked a company spokesperson if and when Microsoft planned to change Skype's infrastructure and development methodologies. It was obvious from the Microsoft Jobs listings that Skype was using lots of PHP, Perl, Python and open-source. Would it ever make sense, for example, to move any Skype services to Azure? Or to try to convert Skype into a .Net shop?

I was told it was too early to say.

In July 2011, Skype execs said they were buying up some kind of servers for their datacenters to help maintain bandwidth for Skyping via Facebook, but they never specified which operating systems they were running.

I asked again today whether the Softies would comment on the latest report on changes coming to Skype's back-end infrastructure. So far, no response.

Update: Via a Microsoft spokesperson comes a response which seems to me to corroborate Ars' report (at least in part):

"As part of our ongoing commitment to continually improve the Skype user experience, we developed supernodes which can be located on dedicated servers within secure datacentres. This has not changed the underlying nature of Skype’s peer-to-peer (P2P) architecture, in which supernodes simply allow users to find one another (calls do not pass through supernodes). We believe this approach has immediate performance, scalability and availability benefits for the hundreds of millions of users that make up the Skype community," according to Mark Gillett, Corporate Vice President, Skype Product Engineering & Operations.

Microsoft didn't respond as to whether these supernodes are now Microsoft-hosted Linux servers. Company officials also didn't respond to my question as to when the change in infrastructure occurred.

A quick search on the Microsoft Jobs boards indicates that Skype is still pretty much a PHP, Perl and Python shop. One open Skype job specified that either Linux or Windows experience would be acceptable.

Topics: Software, Browser, Collaboration, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software Development, Social Enterprise


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • I want to hear the fanboys! Common...

    • Don't worry. You will

      Those Linux milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard!

      Mary Jo Foley
      • Milkshake

        MJ - if you're talking about fanboys this cover is probably more appropriate:
  • Skype: What kind of infrastructure changes has Microsoft made?

    Its just temporary with the linux boxes. No company that just recently got acquired would change infrastructure so quickly. The company needs to be evaluated on all their technology and then migrate over to the Windows solution. That will probably happen in a year or so unless there is some really obscure piece of software Skype is running behind the scenes then it might take a little while longer. But eventually Skype will convert.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Probably right

      Though at least Skype has licenses for all of MS' secret Linux patents.
      John L. Ries
    • It took them years to replace rock solid BSD *nix for Hotmail...

      with an inferior product (2000 a minor improvement on the joke that was NT). Their pride demands they do the same here.

      Companies without free windows server licenses to throw at their solution should look at *nix alternatives. Their reliability, scaleability and performance is proven. The savings bankable.

      Just imagine the number of CALs required for a windows solution;-)
      Richard Flude
      • Microsoftdoesn't need to pay for CALs

        They have hundreds of millions smucks, er, I mean customers, willing to foot the bill for them.
    • temporary?

      So, i guess windows doesn't work for temporary if even the company that created it can't even make it work... temporary, of course. :-P

      PS. Love is than fanboys make excuses - on all sides: windows, *nix, apple -so deliciously transparent in their prejudice
    • Even MS see the Light

      LD no matter how much you flip flop on this one it's a FACT.

      Alan Smithie
  • I believe its a temp solution

    They will likely move Skype to Azure in a couple years. Changing out Linux boxes for Windows would just add cost when the ultimate aim is to move it to Azure in the near future which remove the need to main and support specific/unique hardware infrastructure. The extra hardware investments right now is to boltster up what they have and keep it running until everything is ready for the move.
    • One big advantage of the cloud...

      is a speed of service design and deployment - so why it's not running on Azure already?
  • All about spelling.....

    This article is loaded with errors:
    Ars is basing the report on a security researcher???s findings; he claims the change happened two months ago.
    Should read:
    Ars is basing the report on a security researcher???s findings; he claims that the changes happened two months ago.

    I wondered last year when and would put its stamp on Skype???s back-end systems.
    Should Read:
    I wondered last year when and where Microsoft would put its stamp on Skype???s back-end systems.

    Although I like Mary Jo and her articles, someone needs to please check for typos because its hard to believe something that was written badly....
    • Sorry for the typo

      The first sentence you call out is fine as is. I will add a missing word to the second. Thanks for such close reading and your critique :) MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
  • @EgoDust - Actually...

    It should be like this:
    I wondered last year when and where would Microsoft put its stamp on Skypes back-end systems.

    This is a question worded as a statement. So the verb precedes the noun.

    But either way, you should cut the lady some slack. She does her job with an integrity and effort. Wrong grammar is for grammar nazis like you and Wash Post.
  • What will Linux Geek say?

    He must be perplexed and confused. Cognitive dissonance!
  • Screen sharing gone

    In the latest Skype update, they removed screen sharing from the free edition. "Improving the experience for users", yeah, right.

    If any similar service shows up that includes (free) screen sharing me and many others will move instantly.
    Daniel Breslauer
    • you should still be able to share

      According to the link below, you should still be able to share the screen if you start share screen FIRST then webcam after.
  • it's funny

    It's funny that a few of the readers here are using this as "proof" that Windows Server/Azure is not capable of running the back-end of Skype. From a business standpoint, you need to do what's quickest with the least disruption (i.e. using software that's already powering Skype). I would bet that the ORIGINAL Skype (before Microsoft bought), was using some form of Linux like Hotmail was originally on Unix until about 2004 before MS bought it.

    I have to commend them for doing amazing job of mobilizing 10,000 servers in just roughly two months. It takes time to migrate such a large and complex network of software. It doesn't happen overnight, and it certainly doesn't happen even with the best technology. Guess what? Someone has write all the software, test it, debug it, test it more, etc...Maybe if you are Houdini, then just maybe, just maybe, you can make it appear overnight.
    • It is easy with Linux