A managed File Transfer solution to move large volumes of unstructured data, differs from a plain File Transfer tool, like the world-famous FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client/server combination. It does this by offering technical capabilities that earned it the prefix "Managed." These capabilities include:
- Guaranteed delivery that leverage 'retry' and 'resume' options to ensure a successful delivery of files and recovery from failed transfers.
- File integrity to certify that the file was not altered accidentally or voluntarily (think "man-in-the-middle") during its transit.
- Non-repudiation or the ability to prove that a file was sent by one party to another by using digital signatures for each participant.
- Automation of file transfer-related activities and business processes, both pre- and post-transfer, and on success or error.
- End-to-end reporting on file transfers. Notification of successful file transfers (acknowledgement) all the way to the sending business applications.
- Global visibility and auditability on administrative (configuration) and runtime (transfer) operations.
- End-to-end security for data in-transit and at-rest, with support for PKI.
All these criteria are characteristics of a Managed File Transfer solution and represented the boxes that vendors had to check during a Request for Proposal (RFP) processes back in the early days. Over time, the technologies and industry requirements (especially around compliance and risk management) have evolved, putting more pressure on the MFT vendors to come up with new points of differentiation. Here are six of those benefits to keep in mind when adopting a digitalized Managed File Transfer solution.
- Increased support of internet-based protocols, like HTTP/S or AS2.
- File Transfer Acceleration using internal mechanism (like file compression) and new technology capabilities (ex: pTCP or parallel TCP sessions).
- Bandwidth and priorities management at the partner and transfer levels.
- Native integration with 3rd party services (e.g. identity and access management, anti-virus, data loss protection solutions).
- Extension capabilities to add new protocols or processing steps as part of the solution, in a safe and sustainable way.
- Scalability and HA to adapt to increasing demand and always-on service.
With this evolution of the MFT stack, one could say that those enhancements were mainly geared towards "high control." The IT/MFT team, now organized in Center of Excellence (CoE) and offering a shared service to the rest of the company, is responsible for the data movement inside and outside the walls. They must face a myriad of new demands from their business counterparts, ranging from technical to business needs. The MFT CoE operates as a gatekeeper for the requested services, reviewing each of them for approval, and implementing according to their own Operational Level Agreement (OLA), regardless of customer urgency.
At the time, this was a viable option to answer changing needs while complying with internal policies and industry regulations. But a few years later, things have evolved, and it is not enough to face the new dynamic and modern way of working inspired by the digital trend.
Initiatives like mobile app development, aggregating and exchanging big data, consolidating legacy systems into a corporate solution, moving infrastructure to the cloud or using a hybrid deployment all point toward a new interest around "high productivity." How can IT support business teams who are challenged to continuously and rapidly innovate, to roll out new services to their users frequently and to accelerate their development and deployment cycles?
From a Managed File Transfer perspective, this comes down to a new generation of solution that delivers leading file transfer product functionalities, which can be controlled via a granular set of administrative and operational API (for headless operations). It goes without saying that this solution should support - but more importantly, leverage - the latest features offered in the cloud to offer capabilities like geo-distributed and zero-downtime architecture, whether deployed on premise, in the cloud or in a hybrid fashion. Any operation on the Managed File Transfer solution should be aligned with the DevOps best practices and able to integrate with the main tools used in the customer Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) chain.
But this is not all, this next generation is about offering a solution, rather than a set of products. A solution provides a customer-centric experience, unified between its different elements and enriched with by-products and services to accelerate user adoption.
A first example can be pre-configured artifacts (e.g. composite APIs, configuration templates, scripts, connectors, etc.) developed and shared by the MFT community. These components are leveraged by the MFT CoE to implement self-service capabilities that give more autonomy to end-users & app developers. The MFT CoE becomes an enabler on the Managed File Transfer solution for the business teams and plays a more proactive role by defining and organizing the MFT service portfolio ahead of users' requests.
Another example is the availability of on-demand added-value services, which may not reside in the solution itself, but augment it from a vendor platform hosted the cloud. The MFT CoE can sign up for services that can be temporary (like a conversion/migration tool) or perpetual (like a visibility add-on, an on-boarding solution or an MFT-oriented configuration management system). Those subscription-based services are ready-to-use and therefore help deliver a very fast ROI and time-to-market for MFT CoE.
Finally, MFT CoE exists in most companies. And since we're stronger together, it's imperative that they can ask their questions, share their use cases and request some best practices to be more creative in serving their business. An active community of users needs collaborative tools or portals, public and private events to share their knowledge, which in turn benefit the vendors by proposing new ideas to enhance their Managed File Transfer solutions.
A digitalized MFT solution brings those 6 facets together to provide an efficient way to propel the file management services into the digital world.
Author: Brice Flamant