Skype says business users grab 30 percent of its downloads, but is the enterprise ready for wider use?
There are many good reasons why Skype is slowly making its way into the corporate world: It's free, and you can forget about country codes, telephone numbers and long-distance bills. With a mouse click, you're talking, or even video conferencing, with any of the 170 million Skype users worldwide. But there are also good reasons why corporate IT views Skype skeptically. For starters, it can be a bandwidth hog. Another problem: Most security products don't yet monitor Skype traffic, meaning that Skype's file-transfer capability may make an end-run around your company's firewall. Now Skype is vying to address these concerns.
Consider the case at Holly Corp: The petroleum refiner blocked Skype outright when it first noticed employees sneaking the software onto the corporate network two years ago. "We started noticing that bandwidth was not available," says Paul Sheth, network and systems lead with Holly. "And before it started causing a problem that people would notice, we blocked it."
Up until recently, pulling the plug was the only way corporate IT could control the software, but lately eBay, Skype's parent company, has been jazzing up Skype so that people like Sheth will take a second look.
In December, eBay released a new version of Skype that gave outside programmers some level of control over the software, and those changes are already making Skype easier to manage. For example, FaceTime Communications Inc. now sells software that can be used to centrally control which Skype features are permitted on the network.
With FaceTime, Holly can turn off videoconferencing at regional offices with low bandwidth, or block file-sharing with Skype.
Still, security remains an issue: Sheth says he still doesn't quite have the level of control over Skype that he wants. "It's making a stride in the right direction," he says. "As far as mass acceptance, it will still be another year or two off."