I have been managing the IT function in a small software development company that has grown from 10 users to 70 users in 5 years.

Most users in the company are office based, but some key users work remotely.

At the beginning, Skype become the de facto tool for communicating between office bound and remote workers. As the company has grown, and more remote workers have been added Skype has become part of the ecosystem of the company.

In the last 18 months Skype reliability has deteriorated. I had initially attributed this to issues with a certain ISP, but in the interim we have moved offices contracted with a completely different ISP, increased our synchronous fibre broadband (20mbps), and installed new network hardware.The Skype issues however remain.

The standard complaint form remote users is that when they talk to their friends, mothers, wives, etc Skype is fine, but when they talk to someone in the office, they frequently get drops, pixelation, and muffling.

After having tried to resolve this over 2 years I'm beginning to wonder if Skype is an appropriate tool for this environment. All of the company's infrastructure is cloud based, so there is a constant data flow in and out of the office which will obviously peak from time to time. We're also Apple based, so there is constantly stuff downloading from iTunes often on multiple systems at the same time.

Also, there could be multiple Skype VC calls going on at the same time. We generally see issues in the morning between 09:00 and 11:00 when we have stand up meetings all of which involve remote developers.

Whenever we get these problems we increase the broadband by 5mbps which makes things better for a few months then we get some more staff, and then it starts again.

My theory is that these inevitable peaks which you generally won't get on a residential connection, are impacting on Skype audio and video. With the company IT profile as is making something like Skype work consistently is going to be virtually impossible. Maybe a dedicated internet connection for Skype would be a solution?

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    I think you should look into the direction of QoS. Also, do you monitor your internet connection? Is it saturated? – MichelZ Apr 15 '14 at 13:33
  • QoS is only a solution if you own both ends of the pipe. I have set QoS on the outbound, but I can't set it on the inbound connection, so the issue will apply whether I have QoS or not. – Garreth McDaid Apr 15 '14 at 13:43
  • Yes, but having at least outbound QoS is better than no QoS... isn't it? :) – MichelZ Apr 15 '14 at 13:44
  • Re. Internet connection: yes, I monitor it, and it does show brief saturation points a times during the day. But that's my point. These brief points of saturation don't impact on general usage, just Skype. So, if my pipe is sufficient for 95% of my traffic, but not for Skype, is Skype an appropriate tool, or do you just need to install so much bandwidth (and sync bandwidth isn't cheap) to make sure you never have peaks. – Garreth McDaid Apr 15 '14 at 13:53
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    What if you try to cap all bandwidth hoggers (i.e. HTTP/FTP traffic usually) to a max of 90% of your link, and leaving 10% "just for skype" ? – MichelZ Apr 15 '14 at 14:00

Whenever we get these problems, we increase the broadband by 5mbps, which makes things better for a few months, and then we get some more staff, and then it starts again.

My theory is that these inevitable peaks, which you generally won't get on a residential connection, are impacting on Skype audio and video, and while the company IT profile is at it is, making something like Skype work consistently is going to be virtually impossible unless we have a dedicated internet connection for Skype.

Is this a valid theory?

That's pretty subjective troubleshooting. You should spend the time to get hard data about your networks (from the edge to the client), especially during times when the audio/video is poor.

You should also look into deciding how you want to use Skype or any IM tool. Most allow you to set your "quality" so that you can decide to not push HD video when it simply isn't necessary. Those kinds of tweaks might help you.

Skype and other solutions like Lync, Jabber, etc. especially when used across your edge connection with your ISP could be subject to degradation since you can't control QoS worth anything. Internal IM/video collaboration is better, but still can have minor issues even across large bandwidth connections.

Should Skype be reliable in a corporate environment?

In the end, your company has to decide what solution works well for it. Skype itself isn't the issue here, no more than any IM client would be.

  • Skype doesn't allow you control quality, other than turning on and off video. Its interesting that you think there will inevitably be degradation across the ISP edge. Another another forum, a respondent said there should never be an issue. I'm thinking here that the most likely solution is just to have enough bandwidth so that peaks never last long enough to impact on call quality. – Garreth McDaid Apr 15 '14 at 13:45
  • True, you'd either have to use something at the edge firewall in a policy to limit Skype bandwidth or adjust it within the webcam itself to only push non-hd video. – TheCleaner Apr 15 '14 at 13:49
  • I'm thinking here that the most likely solution is just to have enough bandwidth so that peaks never last long enough to impact on call quality. - while this is any easy approach, it's also "wasteful" in that you are sizing for the peaks and not the norm. You can definitely go this route, but you should really look into hard data. The issue may not even be on your end but the remote user's bandwidth. Real data logging and information would help justify any solution you come up with. – TheCleaner Apr 15 '14 at 13:52
  • I'm pretty sure the issue is on our end. I can see peaks in our bandwidth usage during certain times of the day, and the complaints come from various remote sources. The data is very hard to come by. Everything might be fine for 2-3 weeks, and then (eg if Apple release a new Xcode) we have complaints for 3 days. Its a small company, and the resources just aren't there to do detailed network troubleshooting. The managers just want it to "work", and aren't interested in any other solution, so upping the bandwidth is the path of least resistance. – Garreth McDaid Apr 15 '14 at 14:00
  • In that case, up the bandwidth. Taking Michel's comments into consideration, look at rate limiting other traffic. Another thought is to check pricing on a separate link for Skype and push it by itself across a separate connection. OR look into something that can be locally hosted like a Lync server or Jabber or similar if you want full control. But yeah, the cheap/dirty solution is to just add bandwidth. If you can prove that the peaks will no longer reach more than 75% utilization after upping the pipe, that would probably satisfy management enough. – TheCleaner Apr 15 '14 at 14:06

I've done quite a bit of research on this over the last month or so.

My conclusion is that unless you use the Skype Tools for Active Directory, or are in a position to use a Proxy server for all your Internet traffic, Skype is not a good corporate solution.

This is because Skype performance cannot be guaranteed in environments using Port Address Translation


Quote from Skype Administrators Guide:

2.2.4 Relays

If a Skype client can’t communicate directly with another client, it will find the appropriate relays for the connection and call traffic. The nodes will then try connecting directly to the relays. They distribute media and signalling information between multiple relays for fault tolerance purposes. The relay nodes forward traffic between the ordinary nodes. Skype communication (IM, voice, video, file transfer) maintains its encryption end-to-end between the two nodes, even with relay nodes inserted.

As with supernodes, most business users are rarely relays, as relays must be reachable directly from the internet. Skype software minimizes disruption to the relay node’s performance by limiting the amount of bandwidth transferred per relay session.

ie regardless of what bandwidth you have, when using PAT, you will still be dependent on resources over which you have no control.

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