One thing we often discover when talking with clients is that many of their company's file sharing tasks are actually accomplished using a mishmash of solutions. Some employees send files through email. Others use FTP. Some subscribe to cloud-based file sharing services like DropBox and Google Drive. And still others rely on specialized methods like custom scripts or programs.
Sadly, most of these solutions are either not fast enough, not intuitive enough, not reliable enough, or not secure enough. Many of them don't even have enough capacity to support large file transfers.
What's more interesting is these distinct tasks can actually be accomplished more effectively by a single solution - a managed file transfer server. In this post, we've put together various file sharing activities from different industries which can all be served through managed file transfer. Who knows? You might find several activities here similar to your own.
Each of these activities can be classified under one of these four general use cases:
1. Person to Person,
2. Person to Server,
3. Server to Person, or
4. Server to Server
Note: Some vendors also use the terms "process" or "system" in lieu of "server". So person-to-server is basically the same as person-to-process or person-to-system.
Person to Person File Transfer
Person-to-person file transfers are those file transfer activities that a large majority of your organization's employees normally engage in, typically on an ad-hoc or unscheduled basis. It always involves a message sender and a recipient. As the name implies, both sender and recipient are people (as opposed to servers).
So how are person-to-person file transfers carried out? Mostly, employees do person-to-person file transfers through email attachments. But email has several limitations when used as a file transfer application. File size limitations, data leakage, and lack of tracking mechanisms are some of the issues your users can encounter.
Unfortunately, in spite of the inadequacies of email, it's still the default option for people who share files over the Internet. That's why what we normally recommend to our clients is an ad-hoc file transfer. This is an implementation of managed file transfer wherein users interact with a tool they're already familiar with: their own email client.
This can provide significant benefits. Your users will be able to exchange files with the comfort and familiarity of email and yet you won't have to worry about file size limitations, security, reliability, and tracking, all of which will be handled in the background by the MFT server.
The article Emailing Large Files with Ad-Hoc File Transfers has a very informative discussion on ad-hoc file transfers and I encourage you to read that if most of your file transfers are ad-hoc in nature.
Another person-to-person file transfer some of our clients practice is one wherein both sender and receiver actively communicate via either instant messaging tools or email but exchange files through secure FTP clients. This is a slightly more technical option since it requires opening two applications (either email or IM) and a secure file transfer client like AnyClient. The advantage is that you can have more flexibility in choosing the type of file transfer protocol, i.e. FTP/S, SFTP, WebDAV/S, AFTP, etc. Email-based ad-hoc file transfers are typically done over either HTTP/S.
Sample scenarios requiring person-to-person file transfers:
✔ A lawyer looking to share files with a virtual paralegal;
✔ An OEM (original equipment manufacturer) employee wanting to send large CAD files to a counterpart working with the manufacturer's Tier 1 supplier;
✔ A member of a movie production crew shooting footage abroad needing to send dailies to producers and studio execs at HQ;
Person to Server File Transfer
In a person-to-server file transfer, a user uploads files to a server with the intention of making it available to either one or more receivers or one or more software applications. In cases wherein only a single (human) receiver is involved, a person-to-server may look the same as a person-to-person file transfer. The only difference is, in a person-to-person, the sender knows exactly who will be retrieving the file(s) at the receiving end. In other words, there's a definite recipient. In a person-to-server, the one who retrieves the file is somewhat arbitrary.
Sample scenarios requiring person-to-server file transfers:
✔ An attorney wanting to share ESI to members of the opposing counsel during eDiscovery;
✔ A VFX specialist in New York looking to forward post-production video to a music/sound effects studio in LA;
✔ An employee needing to upload images from an iPhone for mobile phone backup;
Server to Server File Transfer
Some file transfers are conducted without human intervention. A perfect example is the transmission of EDI (electronic data interchange) messages. EDI is normally carried out between computers, with humans intervening only in special cases like when it's time to troubleshoot errors or review data quality. These computer-to-computer exchanges are commonly practiced in industries like Finance, Automotive, Communications, Government, Retail and many others.
File transfer servers play an integral role in the EDI process. Some manufacturers, for instance, integrate their business software with their file transfer server and configure the latter to automatically transmit EDI documents like updated Price/Sales Catalogs (EDI 832) to designated servers belonging to their supply chain, e.g. retailers, distributors, dealers, etc. These server-to-server file transfers are typically done automatically either on a scheduled basis (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly) or in response to certain events (e.g. when the contents of a particular directory has changed).
Managed file transfer servers are perfect for this type of activity as they already have built-in business process automation mechanisms such as triggers, which enable scheduled or event-driven actions. In addition, MFT servers already come with a host of security attributes like secure file transfer protocols, access control, and data-at-rest encryption, which are vital in preserving the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of those EDI messages.
To gain a better understanding of triggers, which play a huge role in automating business processes, you may view these videos:
or read these posts:
Other sample scenarios suited for server-to-server file transfers:
✔ A supplier looking to transmit EDI to a trading partner using AS2;
✔ A health care provider wanting to transfer files containing patient data (ePHI) to a CPA firm.
✔ An on-premise data center needing to transfer large files in bulk to a cloud services provider;
Server to Person File Transfer
Lastly, a server-to-person file transfer is the kind wherein a software application or business process forwards files to a managed file transfer server and the server makes those files available to one or more users. Ideally, the server should be capable of automatically notifying the intended recipients as soon as it receives the files in question. So, in cases like this, the server should be equipped with the necessary triggers that can:
1) Determine when the files have already been uploaded to it and
2) Automatically notify the recipients through a Twitter tweet, email or other messaging service when the files are already available for download.
Sample scenarios requiring server-to-person file transfers:
✔ Regular reports and supporting data needing to be forwarded to a senior manager;
✔ Custom software developed internally waiting to be distributed to geographically dispersed IT staff;
✔ Soft copies of marketing collateral needing to be distributed to marketing heads located in different regions.
By providing a single secure, reliable, and fast solution for a wide range of file sharing, collaboration, and business processing activities, a managed file transfer service can cut down system integration costs, significantly reduce risks, streamline file transfer processes, and ultimately help in achieving business goals.
JSCAPE MFT Server is a powerful platform-independent managed file transfer server with installers for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris and UNIX platforms. Download a free fully-functional evaluation today.