Difference Between Secure File Transfer and Managed File Transfer

One of the most common questions I encounter today is “what is the difference between secure file transfer and managed file transfer?”

The short answer is that managed file transfer is secure file transfer PLUS several additional capabilities and a different sales and support model.   The remainder of this article delves into the specific technological and business attributes that separate the two markets.

Characteristics of Secure File Transfer Products

Technological Table Stakes

There are certain technological capabilities that almost every secure file transfer server has, regardless of brand.  These include:

  • Support for multiple protocols over secure channels
    • Secured by SSL/TLS (e.g., FTP/S and HTTP/S)
    • Secured by SSH (e.g., SFTP and sometimes SCP)
  • Integration with an external authentication source
    • Usually a connection to Active Directory, a database table, or both
  • Web-based administration and end user interfaces
  • Virtual file system with user/group-based access controls
  • Multitenancy through logical division of hosts
  • Event-driven commands and notifications (e.g., “on file upload, do…”)
  • Limited API or command-line tools for programmatic/scripted user provisioning
  • Limited or DIY support for high availability (HA) deployments

Sales and Support Table Stakes

There is also a standard sales and support model that is common in the secure file transfer market.  The characteristics of this model include:

  • Price of $5,000 or less per server
  • Typically sold to key individual in IT (e.g., a SysAdmin)
  • Published/fixed prices
  • Rare use of onsite services
  • Free upgrades within a support subscription period
  • Extensive use of ecommerce channels
  • Anonymous evaluations (think throw-away email addresses)

Where Products Compete

Competitive capabilities (some have, some do not) of secure file transfer products include:

  • Native 64-bit support
  • IPv6 support
  • Multiplatform support
  • Mobile device end user interface
  • Enhanced web interface transfer plug-ins
  • Extensibility hooks around provisioning, branding and special commands
  • Explicit high availability (HA) support

Some of the additional sales and support attributes secure file transfer vendors use as competitive advantages include:

  • Integration, migration or training services
  • Use of reseller channels and distributor networks
  • Use of direct salespeople, especially for multiple server sale deals
  • Multi-year support subscriptions
  • Interactive support forums
  • Phone access to live support technicians

Additional Characteristics of Managed File Transfer Products

Technological Table Stakes

In addition to ALL of the secure file transfer table stakes, managed file transfer products also almost always possess the following capabilities.

  • File encryption (a.k.a. “encryption at rest”) such as PGP, encrypted Zip, SMIME, etc.
  • Complete auditing or all actions (separate from debug logs)
  • Scheduled and manual request driven automation (including notifications and alerts; remember this is in addition to event-driven automation of secure file transfer)
  • An architecture that ensures no files are ever stored in the clear in the DMZ
  • Some type of integration with AV (anti-virus)
  • Enough security to meet PCI DSS, FISMA and any other major security regulation

The next list of capabilities includes those that provide a competitive advantage in secure file transfer products but are merely table stakes in managed file transfer products.

  • Multiplatform support
  • Enhanced web interface transfer plug-ins
  • Extensibility hooks around provisioning, branding and special commands
  • Explicit high availability (HA) support

Sales and Support Table Stakes

There is also a standard sales and support model that is common in the managed file transfer market.  The characteristics of this model include:

  • Price of $10,000 or more (often much more) per server
  • Typically sold to project team or transmissions department; sales to individuals are rare
  • Unpublished/negotiable prices
  • Frequent use of onsite services (especially implementation and training)
  • Free upgrades within a support subscription period
  • Multi-year support subscriptions
  • Extensive use of direct sales models
  • Tightly controlled evaluations
  • Phone access to live support technicians

Where Products Compete

Competitive capabilities (some have, some do not) of managed file transfer products include:

  • Realtime dashboards (and integration w/ enterprise monitoring/administration)
  • Document management (including SharePoint integration)
  • BPM and workflow orchestration
  • Transformation and validation (a.k.a. mapping)
  • Ad hoc “send file to person”
  • Integration w/ enterprise back-ends (e.g., MQ, Oracle, ESB, SOA, etc.)
  • Integration with DLP (data loss prevention)
  • Message-based or EDI transaction support
  • Plug-ins for common desktop applications (browsers, Outlook, Office, etc.)
  • WAN optimization (rapid transit between controlled endpoints)
  • Pre-configured partners (e.g., common w/ AS2), maps (e.g., for a particular industry) or integration points (e.g., “built for SAP”)

Some of the additional sales and support attributes managed file transfer vendors use as competitive advantages include:

  • Integration, migration or operation optimization services
  • Use of reseller channels and distributor networks
  • Choice of deployment models (on-premises, hosted/cloud or hybrid)
  • Financial size, ownership structure or reputation of company
  • Safety of upgrades and responsiveness of bug fixes
  • Roadmap reviews and customer roundtables that help key customers shape the development of future product development
  • Regular health checks with account managers and technical leadership that help customers get the most out of their existing software

Addition Discussion

See also “What features should I expect in a managed file transfer product?

Where Secure File Transfer Products Have Advantages Over Managed File Transfer Products

For those of you who read to the end, I’ll add one additional nuance.  There are some areas where secure file transfer products have distinct advantages over managed file transfer products.  These include:

  • Innovation: IPv6, native 64-bit and mobile device interfaces are much more common in secure file transfer applications than MFT applications
  • Price: MFT can easily cost 10x what secure file transfer costs
  • Time-to-Value: If you absolutely need to get it up today, secure file transfer products will let you do that as long as you have a credit card, whereas the best MFT products can get you up within a week (most of the time is consumed in the direct sales process; many MFT software packages are “click-click-click” simple to install)
About Jonathan Lampe

Andy White and I started File Transfer Consulting in 2011 to solve secure file transfer and managed file transfer issues through strategic analysis, training, integration and custom development. Our unique approach allows us to address complicated issues like no one else.

Before FTC I created and then led the development of Ipswitch's MOVEit managed file transfer software for ten exciting years, including three as VP for R&D and Product Management at Ipswitch (WS_FTP, MessageWay and hosted services). I also served for VP for Product Management for RhinoSoft (Serv-U), where I guided the development of managed file capabilities and marketing that led to its eventual sale to SolarWinds.

Come meet me on Google+ or LinkedIn today!