File Transfer Technologies

 In General

Transferring files between multiple locations, quickly, securely and easily is one of the key aspects of modern information technology. Historically file transfers have been addressed in a number of ways and using a variety of different technologies; primarily FTP- and HTTP-based downloads and to some degree E-mail. However in our current era of ever-increasing file sizes, and intense focus on security and ease of use, a lot of these technologies are no longer coping with all of the demands being placed on them.

To cope with these ever-increasing requirements a number of these technologies have been evolving to include new features and functionality making file transfers easier and more secure than ever before. At QBS Software we deal with a number of software publishers who have a wide variety of products and solutions that secure, enhance and simplify file transfers. FTP (File Transfer Protocol) has been around for many years and was designed specifically for file transfers. However one of FTPs major limitations is its lack of security. This lack of security is exactly the weakness addressed by GlobalSCAPE’s Secure FTP Server. Secure FTP Server is a FTP server that is focused on security. It supports multiple industry-standard security protocols including FTPS (SSL/TLS) and SFTP (SSH). In addition it features extensive user account controls, event rules, a programmable interface, and an optional auditing and reporting module which captures all server transactions. Secure FTP Server also includes HTTP(S) support which allows fast and secure downloads via a web browser. Secure FTP Server, with its wide range of features, excellent security and modular component approach which makes for attractive pricing and flexible deployment options, is ideally aimed at the SME market.

GobalSCAPE’s enterprise level FTP file transfer product is called Enhanced File Transfer (EFT) Server. EFT Server is file transfer solution aimed at the corporate and enterprise markets, which features support for FTP/S, HTTP/S, SFTP and AS2. EFT Server integrates with the DMZ Gateway Server which acts as a communications proxy that can process inherently insecure connections from your DMZ to your internal network. EFT Server also boasts a huge number of features included but not limited to data storage security, event rules, guaranteed delivery through automatic retry and checkpoint restart, data integrity checking and advanced management features.The client side of GlobalSCAPE’s FTP-based solutions is centred on CuteFTP. CuteFTP comes in three different versions, namely CuteFTP Lite, CuteFTP Home and CuteFTP Pro. CuteFTP Lite is the basic version of CuteFTP featuring standard FTP downloads and download resume functionality. CuteFTP includes the functionality of the Lite version as well as incorporating some additional features like FTPS transfers, advanced search functionality, local backup and scheduled, concurrent and multipart transfers. CuteFTP Professional is the fully featured package including all the features of the other two versions as well as OpenPGP encryption, HTTP/S transfers, shell integration, folder monitoring and synchronization, transfer integrity and bandwidth throttling. The combination of Secure FTP Server or EFT Server and CuteFTP is a secure, simple, and economical way to transfer files between multiple locations.

In addition to their FTP-based products, GlobalSCAPE also offers an additional file transfer product, namely Wide Area File Services (WAFS). WAFS is a file replication product that allows a copy of a specific file to be replicated automatically to various locations. WAFS servers can be deployed to multiple locations and they then synchronise with the central server, ensuring that all files at all locations are identical. WAFS features advanced data replication functionality which ensures file coherence through real-time locking, file release, and synchronisation. It is also completely transparent to end users and tunnels through HTTP/S which ensures firewall compatibility. These features ensure instant access to newly created files anywhere on the WAN.

WS_FTP is a client/server range of FTP products from Ipswitch Inc. WS_FTP Server is the FTP server in this product range and comes in three different variants including WS_FTP Server, WS_FTP Server with SSH and WS_FTP Server Corporate. The primary features of the different versions remain the same, with the core difference being the protocols supported as well as some of the optional modules being included in the Corporate version. WS_FTP Server includes support for FTPS, while WS_FTP Server with SSH supports both FTPS as well as SFTP. The Corporate version includes support for both FTPS and SFTP as well as SCP2 and the HTTP/S Web Client and FIPS-Validated Cryptography add-on modules. Some of the functionality and features common to all the versions of WS_FTP Server include Authentication Encryption, 256-bit AES Transport Encryption, SHA-512 File Integrity Checking, Workflow Automation, High Availability and a comprehensive logging system. The client side of this WS_FTP client/server solution is WS_FTP Home and WS_FTP Professional. WS_FTP Home is an FTP client that features FTPS transfers as well as 128-bit SSL Transfer Encryption, CRC32 and MD5 File Integrity Checking as well as transfer and connection logging. WS_FTP Professional includes all the features of the Home version in addition to the following functionality: SFTP and SSH transfers, transfer scheduling, backup, compression, scripting, PGP file encryption and unlimited local and remote connections. A WS_FTP Professional Software Development Kit (SDK) is also available, making it easy to embed WS_FTP file-transfer functionality into your custom-built applications.

WS_FTP Server combined with WS_FTP Professional is a high-availability, secure and fully customisable file transfer solution. RhinoSoft is another software development company that has a FTP-based file transfer solution in its portfolio. RhinoSoft develops a client/server based system which includes their Serv-U FTP server and FTP Voyager File transfer client. Serv-U is an FTP server which supports the FTP(S), SFTP and HTTP(S) protocols; it includes a built-in web transfer client, as well as a mobile web client for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It also features multi-language support and remote web-based administration. The FTP Voyager JV add-on is also available. The FTP Voyager JV is an enhanced version of the standard web client that is included with Serv-U. It boasts features such as concurrent file transfers and a customisable interface. FTP Voyager is the client side of this solution and features advanced functionality such as support for FTP(S) and SFTP, on-the-fly compression, automatic time-zone support, MLST/MLSD support and a drag-and-drop interface.

RhinoSoft’s Serv-U/FTP Voyager solution is a secure and easy to use file transfer system. A FTP Voyager SDK is also available, making it easy to customise and integrate file transfer functionality into your custom applications.

E-mail has been used as a makeshift file transfer solution for many years. Transferring files via e-mail is subject to many obstacles such as file size and type limitations, mail server related performance problems and the uncertainty of delivery inherent to e-mail communications. Despite all of the limitations and shortcomings of e-mail as a file transfer technology, e-mail does have one major advantage over other solutions that has ensured its popularity, namely, ease of use. The one advantage that transferring files over e-mail has over any other solution is simplicity. In this day and age almost everyone who uses a computer is familiar with one e-mail client or another, and there is nothing simpler than clicking that ‘attach’ button.

GlobalSCAPE Mail Express is a file transfer product that overcomes all of the limitations of file transfer via e-mail while keeping all of the advantages. Mail Express works by integrating with your Outlook e-mail client by using a plug-in. Certain criteria can then be set to determine which files that are attached to your e-mail are sent through your e-mail server and which ones go via the Mail Express server. Recipients of the e-mail containing the file sent via the Mail Express server do not receive the file but rather receive an automatically generated hyperlink that points to that file, which they can then download using a standard web browser. Files that do not meet the criteria specified of a certain size or of a certain type are delivered via your e-mail server and arrive at the recipient as a standard attachment. Attachments of up to 2GB can be sent via the Mail Express Server allowing for even very large files to be transferred. The appeal of the system lies in its complete transparency to the end-user while allowing tracking and auditing of transmissions and receipts and at the same time allowing administrators to maintain control over file access and permissions. Additionally rules and controls can be customised to suit the particular requirements needed. Mail Express addresses all those issues which make e-mail an imperfect system for large scale file transfers, namely, restrictions on file type and size, mail-server performance problems and the uncertainty of e-mail delivery, as it can be configured to send a receipt upon file download.

GlobalSCAPE Mail Express’ biggest advantage is its complete transparency to the end-user, also ensuring that minimal time would be lost during deployment due to training or systems changes. Its disadvantages are that it only supports Microsoft Outlook, at least at present and that it has an upper file size limit of 2GB.

Biscom Delivery Server (BDS) is a product from Biscom that caters to file transfers by using electronic ‘packages’. The system is accessible either through a web front-end or e-mail, where a user can create his package. A package is essentially a collection of files put together by the sender which can also include a secure message. Once a user has created a package he then addresses it to one or more recipients and sends it. The recipient is notified of the delivery via an e-mail which contains a hyperlink to the file download. The system can be configured in such a way that the recipient has to create a profile and log in before being granted access to the download. Once the recipient has downloaded his package the sender is notified of successful delivery via e-mail. The recipient can also reply to the sender using the BDS and even upload a file for the sender to download. This system has a number of features such as large file support, LDAP/Active Directory integration, real-time tracking, recipient notification and an API for integration with custom built systems and applications. Its benefits include security, full access to tracking and reporting functionality and ease of use. Due to its large feature set and long list of benefits, BDS is a strong product in the file transfer field.

A relatively recent addition to the range of file transfer options available is the file transfer service. A number of these web-driven services have recently appeared and although commercial in nature some of them even offer free transfers of small files. They usually work on a subscription basis and the corporate-level subscriptions on some of these services offer benefits such as customised branding, centralised user management, reporting and auditing and central policy configuration. Although relatively inexpensive and possessing a lot of the required functionality their one major disadvantage is the fact that they are services and as such are run by third parties which not only means a certain lack of control, functionality and customisation, but also a reluctance by some clients to entrust their most confidential data to the care of a third-party. The last file transfer technology discussed here is probably also the most prolific, namely peer-to-peer(P2P). P2P encompasses a wide range of technologies and protocols of which BitTorrent is probably the most common and infamous. Although extremely prevalent, there are estimates that it accounts for up to 35% of all internet traffic, BitTorrent is not very common in the business world. Other P2P protocols and technologies are also used primarily by individuals as opposed to business users. Although protocols such as BitTorrent have certain advantages such as reducing demands on networking hardware and bandwidth, they do suffer from a number of limitations especially in areas like functionality and security. BitTorrent especially is aimed more at the distribution of files as opposed to the transfer of files from sender to recipient.

As we can see, the wide variety of products and technologies outlined above ensures that a simple, secure and effective file transfer solution can be found for almost any scenario.

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