The Internet’s venerable File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is usually supported by Managed File Transfer (MFT) systems, which can typically use FTP as one of the ways in which data is physically moved from place to place. However, MFT essentially wraps a significant management and automation layer around FTP. Consider some of the things an MFT solution might provide above and beyond FTP itself—even if FTP was, in fact, being used for the actual transfer of data:
- Most MFT solutions will offer a secure, encrypted variant of FTP as well as numerous other more‐secure file transfer options. Remember that FTP by itself doesn't offer any form of transport level encryption (although you could obviously encrypt the file data itself before sending, and decrypt it upon receipt; doing so involves logistical complications like sharing passwords or certificates).
- MFT solutions often provide guaranteed delivery, meaning they use file transfer protocols that give the sender a confirmation that the file was, in fact, correctly received by the recipient. This can be important in a number of business situations.
- MFT solutions can provide automation for transfers, automatically transferring files that are placed into a given folder, transferring files at a certain time of day, and so forth.
- MFT servers can also provide set‐up and clean‐up automation. For example, successfully transferred files might be securely wiped from the MFT server’s storage to help prevent unauthorized disclosure or additional transfers.
- MFT servers may provide application programming interfaces (APIs) that make file transfer easier to integrate into your internal line‐of‐business applications.
- MFT solutions commonly provide detailed audit logs of transfer activity, which can be useful for troubleshooting, security, compliance, and many other business purposes.
- Enterprise‐class MFT solutions may provide options for automated failover and high availability, helping to ensure that your critical file transfers take place even in the event of certain kinds of software or hardware failures.
Managed File Transfer vs. FTP
In short, FTP isn’t a bad file transfer protocol—although it doesn’t offer encryption. MFT isn’t a file transfer protocol at all; it’s a set of management services that wrap around file transfer protocols—like FTP, although that’s not the only choice—to provide better security, manageability, accountability, and automation.
In today’s business, FTP is rarely “enough.” Aside from its general lack of security—which can be partially addressed by using protocols such as SFTP or FTPS instead—FTP simply lacks manageability, integration, and accountability. Many businesses feel that they simply need to “get a file from one place to another,” but in reality they also need to:
- Make sure the file isn’t disclosed to anyone else
- Ensure, in a provable way, that the file got to its destination
- Get the file from, or deliver a file to, other business systems (integration)
In some cases, the business might even need to translate or transform a file before sending it or after receiving it. For example, a file received in XML format may need to be translated to several CSV files before being fed to other business systems or databases—and an MFT solution can provide the functionality needed to make that happen.
Many organizations tend to look at MFT first for its security capabilities, which often revolve around a few basic themes:
- Protecting data in‐transit (encryption)
- Ensuring that only authorized individuals can access the MFT system (authorization and authentication)
- Tracking transfer activity (auditing)
- Reducing the spread of data (securely wiping temporary files after transfers are complete, and controlling the number of times a file can be transferred)
These are all things that a simple FTP server can’t provide. Having satisfied their security requirements, organizations then begin to take advantage of the manageability capabilities of MFT systems, including centralized control, tracking, automation, and so forth—again, features that an FTP server alone simply can’t give you.