Our 5-minute guide to Managed File Transfer

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Most IT professionals know that in business, file transfer protocols get things done. They are the processes that move information from one location to another, both internally sharing data within an organisation and passing information from business to business.

For growing enterprises, the daily transfer of files and documents between internal systems and external partners has become so prominent that it's now classified as a core business process. One that can be notoriously time-consuming and unreliable.

With different file transfer protocols available that yield benefits from operational efficiency to added security, the time has come to identify what process your business is utilising and consider whether a change would be beneficial. Managed File Transfer (MFT) is the most advanced of the currently available protocols, with high growth in the MFT industry predicted in the near future.

What is MFT?

MFT is a platform that helps organisations accomplish multiple data-related objectives through managing various file transfer workflows. High volumes of data are moved across time and space, a common need indeed in the data-driven business landscape present today.

Putting the 'manage' in MFT are the internalised add-ons to the file transfer toolkit, setting the protocol apart from competitors. When businesses select MFT software and a vendor that matches their requirements, data and data processes can be managed effectively, with authentication and integration with existing software.

Administration capabilities coupled with automation and security protocols are also typically offered as part of MFT, allowing transfers between systems and users to take place in a secure and controlled fashion. This breeds confidence in end-users that sensitive data is processed according to the rules.

Traditionally, MFT solutions are on-premise installations that focus on integrating with existing internal systems. However, cloud solutions are growing in popularity, providing control over data and workflows without the infrastructure management.

The competition

MFT is just one of three commonly used file transfer protocols, the other two being standard File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Secure File Transfer (SFT). Each protocol dictates how files are processed and sent, but unsurprisingly each has its own quirks. These nuances can be technical and difficult to interpret without specialist knowledge.

Created in the 1970s, FTP was and still is a fast and efficient method of moving data across a server channel, essential for the booming industries of web development and software. Yet for data-driven enterprises, especially with big data initiatives circling, FTP doesn't provide the volume-scalability, nor the security necessary to transfer sensitive data and ensure compliance with regulations.

SFT can be said to have emerged from FTP as a response to data-security concerns arising from stricter data-protection regulation and, of course, cyber attacks themselves. Such matters weren't overarching at the date of FTP's inception, resulting in generally unsecure and therefore vulnerable communication through its channels. SFT, on the other hand, encrypts the data it transfers over a Secure Shell data stream, essentially making it a more secure and advanced version of FTP, but without the centralised functionality unique to MFT.

Why choose MFT

MFT can also be said to have evolved from FTP, and represents the premium and arguably the most advanced software for transferring files, both in terms of its usability and security.

It's best to think of MFT as a one-pane, centralised transfer system with limbs attending to visibility, security, integrations, and more. Previously, to acquire such benefits when implementing an FTP protocol, clunky add-ons would have to be deployed, making for siloed applications that struggle to communicate.

Ingeniously, this added functionality doesn't correlate with negative user experience. Often, MFT interfaces are designed for transparency and visibility, actually making it an easier tool to navigate than its competitors.

A higher level of security is granted compared to FTP, with additional encryption measures protecting data in transit, helping to prevent data snooping, tampering and leakage. It also has a focus on compliance, meaning businesses don't have to live in fear of GDPR fines.

The major drawback however, and something that typically accompanies greater functionality, is that it's by far the most complex protocol to initially deploy although cloud solutions are gradually making this easier.

At ground-level, MFT provides tangible business benefits, such as faster file transfers and cost and risk reduction, and in turn is opening the door to new mobile, cloud and big data initiatives.