Your Guide to
Managed File Transfer (MFT)

Definitions, benefits and comparisons

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Managed file transfer (MFT) is a technology that allows organizations to manage all aspects of secure file transfers—both manual and automatic. Manual file sharing occurs when people share files securely in emails or a web portal. In automatic file transfer, pre-configured jobs push and pull files automatically.

An MFT solution can be deployed in the cloud or on-premises. In either deployment case, the MFT solution will typically have a web portal for users and administrators. Having a web portal makes the solution no-code or low-code.

MFT solutions should:

  • Encrypt files in transit and at rest
  • Accommodate multiple file transfer protocols – SFTP, FTPS, HTTPS, etc.
  • Provide detailed dashboards and controls for administrators
  • Store files until delivery

Illustration for managed file transfer

The benefits of MFT depend on your use cases, so you may not experience all of these. In our experience, however, there are a several benefits:

  • Increased security across your organization. Because MFT solutions encrypt file transfers in transit and at rest, your confidential information will be protected. This could include intellectual property, confidential employee information and customer data.

  • Increased IT productivity. If the MFT solution is no- or low-code, IT teams can make and manage file flows much faster – sometimes in a few clicks.

  • Reduced shadow IT. Shadow IT exists when employees find a way around a cumbersome IT process that is not secure or trackable by IT. For example, employees might work on confidential documents in a collaboration website that is not secure. By implementing an easy-to-use MFT solution, you reduce that risk in your organization.

  • Simplified monitoring and troubleshooting. MFT solutions should have a dashboard that collects all file delivery and activity information. IT teams should also be able to change permissions and retentions, receive alerts and resolve issues.

  • No scaling or server setup costs. With a cloud MFT solution, your IT team won’t need to set up servers, maintain them or add new ones to match demand. They can focus on innovation more.

  • Accelerated partner onboarding. Your IT team can import partner information or allow partners to register themselves in a self-service portal. With Thru’s publish-subscribe design, you can subscribe hundreds of partners to one flow.

The MFT market can be overwhelming – there are lots of vendors and types of MFT to choose from. Here are some basic principles to guide your decision.

Understand Your Mandatory Requirements

Your mandatory requirements will depend on your industry and use cases. These could include:

  • Industry compliance (HIPAA, HITECH, FISMA)
  • Legal compliance (GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act, etc.)
  • Internal security compliance
  • Ease of use requirements

Align with Your Strategy

The new MFT solution you implement should align with your IT strategy, whether it’s multi-cloud, primary cloud or on-premises. Once you understand your strategy, you can eliminate vendors who don’t fit with it.

Clarify Your Use Cases

Outline the two or three most important use cases with your IT team and business leadership. Discuss whether automated file transfer or manual file sharing applies more, or if both are equally important. Take note of key information, including files transferred per month, number of partners and number of new partners onboarded each month.

Set a Budget

If you haven’t done so already, you should set a budget before making a vendor shortlist. It can be difficult to agree about budget, but it makes contacting vendors much easier.

Ensure Organization Fit

It’s important for your IT team to try each solution themselves. They can decide whether it’s truly easy to use and fits your use cases. After a couple days of testing, it’ll be clear which vendor is best.

MFT, as defined above, is a technology that allows organizations manage all aspects of secure file transfers—both manual and automatic. It can handle several types of file transfer protocols, including SFTP (File Transfer Protocol over SSH), FTPS (File Transfer Protocol over SSL), HTTPS and more.

SFTP is one of these file transfer protocols. SFTP is a file transfer protocol that is encrypted by the SSH protocol. The table below assumes that the organization has no MFT solution and uses on-premises servers to transfer files over the SFTP protocol. The MFT column below can represent an on-premises or a cloud MFT solution.

  SFTP On-Premises MFT Solution
Security The password and transfers are encrypted. Files are encrypted in transit and at rest. Role-based permission and retention settings are in place.
Ease of Use The IT team hand-codes a file transfer connection for each partner. If the solution is older, the coding language may not be well known. The IT team uses a drag-and-drop or clickable interface to create and manage file transfers. Self-service partner portals may be available.
Visibility The IT team can’t see whether files were delivered. Employees discover file transfers weren’t completed hours or days later. The IT team quickly checks a dashboard to understand file delivery and activity. Employees receive alerts when an issue arises.
IT Involvement The IT team spends hours coding file transfer connections and managing servers. Scaling up requires more IT resources. The IT team spends a couple hours managing file transfers every week. The saved time can be directed to more value-adding projects.

  On-Premises MFT Cloud MFT
Cost You pay for everything up front, including deployment and installation. However, it’s more of a one-time investment than cloud MFT. You pay monthly, typically with an annual contract.
Deployment Deployment is longer, but you have complete control over implementation. Deployment is quick, especially if you decide to deploy in a multi-tenant environment.
Maintenance Your IT team is responsible for server maintenance. Your MFT provider handles all updates and maintenance.
Scaling Your IT team sets up new servers when demand rises. Your MFT auto-scales with demand.
Ownership You fully own and control your MFT solution. You own your data while your MFT provider handles transferring it.
Remote Work Your on-premises MFT solution is difficult to handle if some or most of your IT team is working from home. Your cloud MFT solution will only need an internet connection to work properly. Cloud MFT is better for mostly or fully remote IT teams.
Disaster Recovery You put disaster recovery measures in place. You need backup and off-site storage procedures and a disaster recovery plan. Your MFT provider is responsible for creating a disaster recovery plan.

No-code MFT eliminates hand-coding, typically with a drag-and-drop interface. An MFT solution might have web portals where users can click and fill information to create a file transfer connection. No-code MFT is helpful for business teams who have little or no technical knowledge.

Low-code MFT minimizes hand-coding by allowing developers to use existing code to create applications. This increases developer productivity because developers don’t have to code the same thing repeatedly. Low-code MFT is intended for a more technical audience who has some coding knowledge.

Before discussing how MFT and EiPaaS are complementary, let’s define EiPaaS: An enterprise integration platform as a service (EiPaaS) is a platform that connects an enterprise’s data in different systems. Without an EiPaaS, an organization’s data is divided, making it difficult to have a full picture.

If you have an EiPaaS, you may wonder why you need an MFT solution. An EiPaaS can’t handle all your file transfers; it can handle some, but not larger ones. It also can’t store files in case they aren’t delivered (persistence).

  EiPaaS MFT
Integration Extensive set of APIs and connectors General file protocols and APIs
Transfer Size Small to medium Unlimited size
Persistence (Storing until delivered) No or limited Unlimited
Transformation (Changing the data) Yes No
Connection Type Point-to-point connections, which are hand-coded and managed individually. Thru’s MFT solution can support the publish/subscribe model, where hundreds of partners can be added to one flow.
Guaranteed Delivery Requires special programming Built in

An application programming interface (API) is a set of programming code that queries data, parses responses and sends instructions between one software platform and another. Think of it as a shortcut that developers use to finish projects faster and prevent coding something that already exists. Most websites have a third-party API – for example, a consulting firm that allows you to add a call to your digital calendar. The firm is using an API to connect their website to a digital calendar.

APIs can be used in many ways for different purposes. To simplify it here, we’ll focus on our APIs:

  • Our monitoring API connects Thru to a larger SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) dashboard to simplify monitoring for your IT team.
  • Our management API automates activities in Thru, including creation of organizations, endpoints and user accounts; and control of instances, flows, organizations and endpoints.

Have questions about managed file transfer?
Get answers, not a sales pitch.

Our focus has always been enterprise-level managed file transfer. We would be happy to answer your MFT questions. Submit the form and we’ll be in touch.


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