Managed File Transfers More Than Meets The Eye
November 12, 2012 Dan Burger
Managed file transfer (MFT) products are designed to manage, secure, centralize, and automate the transfer of files inside and outside of an organization. In IBM midrange shops running the modern operating system known as IBM i, or its earlier versions known as i5OS or OS/400, there is almost always a reason to share data with other platforms running Windows, Linux, Unix, or Mac OS. System integration and data sharing capabilities are expanding with each tick of the clock. Coincidentally, data security issues are expanding at the same time.
With increased risk comes increased regulatory compliance for a lot of companies. And for those without government or industry mandates, the risk alone should have someone’s attention. The reason is that there is a lot of sensitive data flying around. And much of it is unprotected. It gets sent via email attachments and FTP sites where the risk is high and compliance auditors’ tolerances are low. Apparently so are the worries, but that seems to come with a lack of recognition and an assumption that risk is low.
Linoma Software is one of the companies developing and marketing MFT solutions. It has roots in the IBM midrange, but in recent years has grown its business outside that market as well. So I talked with Bob Luebbe, the chief architect at Linoma, to gain some file-sharing insights and MFT trends.
Although many people would assume that sharing data with business partners is far and away the biggest reason companies are doing file transfers, Luebbe says internal uses are almost as common. The role of file transfers continues to expand beyond connecting one FTP server to another. Server-to-server systems are typically automated as much as possible with regularly scheduled data transfers that handle predictable content requirements. Handling data that doesn’t fit the routine is common, however.
“Companies are looking for capabilities that are not limited to server-to-server use,” Luebbe explains. “For one thing, they want employees to initiate transfers, but with managed and audit capabilities and within an authorized and manageable FTP environment that avoids security exposure. Companies are trying to lock down email to prevent file sharing and there is an emphasis to block the use of free file-sharing sites.”
Database integration is also an important aspect for file sharing, according to Luebbe, who says database connections are used–internally for the most part–by approximately half of Linoma’s customers. Customer demand, he says, led to data translators being built into Linoma’s MFT products. The translators can convert data, which avoids the need to build programs for that purpose.
There are a variety of secure data transmission protocols, with SFTP the most popular for organizations sharing data with their partners. SFTP is widely replacing another protocol, FTPS, according to Luebbe. The reason is that FTPS requires multiple ports on the firewall. Companies would use standard FTP (bad idea) or even FTP over SSL. Multiple ports increase the opportunity for a point of failure and require more management. SFTP (be careful with these acronyms) uses a single port. The network engineers, and the auditors, prefer a single port option.
In short, file sharing practices, particularly in the small to midsize shops, is a common practice without a lot of common sense applied to it. MFT sometimes is labeled as a replacement for FTP. It is definitely that, but it also goes beyond that when you look at the systems integration aspect. Where silos of data were originally created to protect sensitive data, that data is being passed around with greater frequency. How that is being done needs to be managed and secure.