FTP: Easy Way to Share with the Cloud - But Beware the Hobo's Lies

Loraine Lawson
Slide Show

The Seven Most Common Self-inflicted Wounds in the Cloud

I can see why business leaders bypass IT and head straight for the cloud. It sounds so easy: Give a company a credit card number or sign a contract, and all your tech problems can be just - poof! - whisked away into this nether-land called "the cloud," where there's no downtime, no worries about software licenses, and no wrangling with all that governance and such.


It's like a Big Rock Candy Mountain for business leaders, minus the little streams of alcohol that come a-trickling down the rocks (or not, depending on how chummy you are with the sales rep).


But just like in the original song, you're chasing a hobo's lies to believe that all your problems will go away with the cloud. I've talked about challenges with integration and governance before, but a recent survey reveals another unpredicted problem: More companies are using unsecured FTP as a way of sharing data with cloud-based solutions.


Hubspan, a B2B integration company, recently queried 250 organizations from a range of industries about their use of file transfer. Incredibly, 70 percent of respondents use file transfer to exchange information, both internally and externally - with 66 percent using file transfer transactions every day. What's more, among those who do not use file transfer products, nearly 40 percent say they plan to do so.


That's got to be some sort of hype cycle abnormality when you consider this is a technology that's been around 40 years.


Those adoption numbers even surprised Margaret Dawson, vice president of product management and marketing for Hubspan, which sells a managed file transfer solution called Webspan.


But that's not the only weirdness uncovered by this survey: It seems no one's wild about FTP. In fact, the survey asked about IT's preference for sending files and 20 percent cited FTP; although, to be fair, that's a bit misleading because FTP still remains the most popular option among its competitors. The other top choices:

  • HTTP, cited by 18 percent
  • SFTP, cited by 16 percent
  • FTP/S, cited by 12 percent


When when taken as a group, FTP loses serious ground to the other options.


What's the deal with FTP, in this day of cloud-this and SaaS-that? Why are we still talking about a migration - not even integration! - method from 1971, particularly when it seems IT would rather pursue other options? During a recent phone briefing on the survey results, Dawson explained that cloud doesn't change the fact you have to share data - and FTP is an established way to do that.


"You still have to connect to the cloud. The cloud does not eliminate the need for portability," she said. "FTP is what they've done, it's what they know how to do. As we move more and more data, I think companies are going to realize they've got to lock that down and manage that."


It's particularly popular at smaller companies, which can readily stick a file on an FTP server but aren't staffed for more technical approaches.


But here's the rub: This rise in FTP usage is going to create serious problems, not just for those using it, but for those of you who are doing business with them. For instance, if you have one of these companies in your supply chain, and if the only way they can connect to a SaaS is to put their data (which could also partially or wholly be your data) on an unsecured FTP server - well, you've got a problem. That's why more companies are deciding not to use FTP at all, Dawson explained.


Some Hubspan customers have demanded audits to ensure FTP isn't used. That can mean checking thousands of connections and integration points, not just between the company and Hubspan, but with cloud solutions and suppliers on the other side, she said.


All of which helps explain why suddenly, everywhere I turn, I'm hearing about managed file transfer. MFT companies like Hubspan and others are eager to step into that big security and compliance gap, because MFT is designed to address the security and shortcomings of FTP. Hence, they can also market their tools as a way to govern the cloud.


Dawson added that it's also an affordable option at a time when cost is a huge issue for companies. Entry level can vary from hundreds of dollars to thousands, she said, depending on which protocols you want managed and how many connections you need.

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