Skype aims to meet more business needs

Skype will continue to aim at the business market, adding functions for specific business needs, executives said this week at the company’s development center in Tallinn, Estonia.

The company’s most recent 3.0 version of its software for Windows allows system administrators to configure and control Skype use across an enterprise and Skype will build on that. ( Skype for Mac 2.0 came out in the fall; a beta of version 2.5 is currently available for Mac users.) Skype’ software provides Internet telephony service as well as messaging, video conferencing and file transfer.

In the short to medium term, Skype will rely on the growth of an “ecosystem” of third parties to adapt and integrate Skype for specific enterprise uses, executives said. “My opinion is that it is better to provide good information and let [other] people build the Skype ecosystem,” said Chief Security Officer Kurt Sauer, adding that “the best ideas are somewhere else.”

Vice President, Mobile & Telecom Services Michael Jackson joked that “we will not, in the short-term, be having installers in Skype trucks visiting businesses,” but added that independent “Skype integrators may come along.”

He said “Skype for business” will evolve as a set of functions that can be switched on or off and fine-tuned according to the needs of the enterprise or organization.

Jackson pointed to a set of features for system administrators in Skype 3.0 that allows extensive control, making Skype “more suitable” for company use. The features include the ability to implement a usage policy and allocate prepaid service credits and accounts.

About 30 percent of Skype use is currently for business, mainly by small businesses, but there is increasing interest from larger companies, he said. He cited the integration of a Skype click-to-call feature at the USRobotics Web site as one example of “mainstream business” adopting a technology that was first designed for home use.

Speaking to journalists at Skype’s development center, Sauer also addressed the issue of an alleged worm recently said to have propagated in the Skype network as well as claims that corporate networks using Skype could become overloaded “supernodes.”

“We have done reverse engineering on this so-called worm, and it is not a worm, but a real piece of malware, using Skype to send an instant message to users which contains a Web URL that allows the download of other malware that was apparently targeted at Pay Pal,” he said, adding that the offending site had been shut down. Pay Pal is the payment system owned by Skype parent eBay.

Supernodes were used to track 300 Skype users in a kind of distributed directory of all users to form a “global index” for Skype. “Supernode traffic is just short query traffic that uses little bandwidth, supernodes are not involved in speech traffic,” he explained.

The Skype executives were somewhat evasive when asked whether Skype penetrated company and personal firewalls. He said that when both parties to a Skype call have firewalls, it is impossible to form a peer-to-peer link, so a system of “relays&38221; using other nodes is used. “This relaying is what is understood as punching holes in firewalls,” Sauer said.

Jackson added that Skype 3.0 allows system administrators to “specify the port to be used by Skype” rather than letting Skype find a port that works, implying that Skype searches for any open, suitable port when linking a call to a network.

Jackson and Sauer’s meeting with Baltic IT journalists also provided a rare look at Skype’s low-profile Estonian development center, where more than 200 programmers from 32 countries work on three floors of an open-office environment. The small number of separate conference rooms and cubicles all have sometimes unpronounceable Estonian names so that “employees learn a little of the language” according to Skype spokesman Villu Arak.

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