Ageing Systems: Why FTP’s Cracks are Starting to Show

Old age comes for the best of us. One day we awake to find our limbs aren’t quite as agile as they used to be, our smile lines are looking more like crow’s feet and our left hip makes that alarming noise when we get out of comfortable chairs. Pretty soon we’ll be out of touch with the youth of today and we’ll look at the latest gizmos with that particular blend of derision and incomprehension reserved for the elderly.

If this process is inevitable for human beings, it’s also true for our technology. Just as gramophones, VHS and minidisc players have gone the way of the dodo (thanks to a combination of new, improved, more convenient systems and ever more demanding user requirements), so too does software age and fall out of use.

Happy Old Man
FTP faces retirement

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is one middle aged system currently situated right on the cusp of retirement. The hot young things (particularly Managed File Transfer solutions coming up via fresh providers like Thruinc.com) are making it increasingly evident that FTP has had it’s day and it’s now time to put this increasingly past-it protocol out to pasture.

I don’t want to push the analogy too much further, but FTP is facing many of the problems commonly associated with old age: a lack of flexibility and adaptability, frailty and vulnerability and a lack of functionality and visibility. It may be the dependable old system that many businesses and enterprises know, love and trust (complete with well-known kooks), but the young guns – particularly MFT – are now showing up FTP’s many shortfalls and inadequacies, leaving this 30 year old protocol behind.

Increasingly apparent limitations

Whether you’re using FTP as an alternative to email for larger file transfers, or have numerous FTP servers in action within your business for a variety of deep rooted functions, you’ll likely be aware of its limitations. What you may not be aware of is a range of better alternatives. For example, with more cutting-edge systems you no longer need to deal with:

  • Zero central visibility
    Transparency is a buzzword you can’t really get away from in the corporate sphere today. Most of the time this refers to wholesome, open business practices visible to clients and customers. However, from a file sharing perspective, transparency is also increasingly crucial. Centralized surveillance of file transfer activity prevents breaches, identifies possible vulnerabilities, monitors usage and helps prove compliance. FTP as is does not allow for visibility of this nature.
  • No non-repudiation tracking
    If you can’t track non-repudiation, you can’t be certain of the integrity of the origin of data received via FTP. This is a huge security risk.
  • The need for additional implementations
    FTP is now 30 years old which means it was not specifically designed for the businesses of 2014. Digital business practices have changed dramatically since the 1980s and, although FTP has evolved since its inception, it is not a perfect fit for modern businesses with increasingly demanding file transfer requirements.

The need for better visibility, better security and bespoke features means that FTP requires significant development to render it fit for purpose. This means substantial development costs for additional implementations. As an out-of-the-box solution, FTP just doesn’t work today. This is not just costly, it can also leave enterprises with very niche systems which require significant inside knowledge and expertise to operate and maintain.

  • Multiple FTP servers
    Today it is very likely that enterprises will have multiple FTP servers on the go, all set up to handle different operating systems, different departments, different physical sites, different applications – you name it. This can result in a real jumble of systems, all with their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This doesn’t just make it difficult to manage and maintain  a system, it’s also very risky from a security perspective. With so many different routes in, a system of varied FTP servers has more holes than a piece of Jarlsberg.
  • Poor systems for ensuring compliance
    Whether it’s essential in your industry or a requirement of your insurer, proving a high standard of data security is often very important within large businesses. Proving compliance with data security regulations is a big challenge with FTP, again as a result of poor visibility and inflexibility.

Is your FTP feeling outdated? Which alternatives are you considering? Share your experience with our readers below.