Skype is readying enterprise-friendly VoIP software

Of Skype's 113 million registered users, 30% use it for business, says Skype

Skype is working to make its internet telephony service more enterprise friendly, and expects to introduce a beta version of its software with support for enterprise management functions within weeks.

The update will allow system administrators to use standard Windows management tools to set how the Skype software connects to the internet, or to disable any of half a dozen functions, including file transfers, says Skype's vice president of telecommunications and Skype for business, Michael Jackson.

Use of Skype in business is widespread: Of Skype's 113 million registered users, 30% say they use it for business, Jackson said, speaking at the IDC European IT Forum in Paris on Monday.

The proprietary and hard-to-block connection protocols used by Skype's peer-to-peer communications system have raised concerns about security in some businesses.

"There was a rumour we disrupt networks to get around things," says Jackson. That started, Jackson says, "because we design things for consumers so they work in any network environment. The back end of that is, it works in any network environment." That makes it difficult for enterprises to block the software, he says.

That was a concern for Intel's chief information officer, John N. Johnson, when some Intel employees installed Skype software on their own initiative.

"What if some vulnerability developed, or if someone came up with a way to use it as a transport into the enterprise? We couldn't tell who was using it, or where, if it needed to be patched," says Johnson.

Skype has worked with Intel to meet the company's security requirements, says Johnson. Together, they came up with a proxy server approach, allowing Johnson to cut off the software's network access if a security problem is identified. "It doesn't go straight out onto the internet any more," Johnson says.

To make Skype connect via the proxy server, Intel forced its Skype-using employees to upgrade their software client to a version supporting proxy connections. For Johnson, that presented no problem: "I have a way to scan the environment to see what's installed."

Skype, designed for consumer use, has much in common with text instant messaging, Johnson says. "IM started as a consumer technology. Now most businesses couldn't work without it."

Johnson himself used Skype "for a bit," he says -- but stopped because Skype wasn't part of the standard software image on a new computer. "I keep changing computers, and I don't have time to reload every little thing on it," he says.

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