Workload Automation Blog

Managed File Transfer (MFT) vs Secure File Transfer (SFT) vs Standard File Transfer Protocol (FTP): What’s the Difference?

Criss Scruggs
5 minute read
Criss Scruggs

For enterprise businesses, file transfer protocols get things done. Literally! They help businesses get information from one party to another, both internally and externally. File transfer protocols dictate how we process and send files of all sizes and types.

There are three commonly used protocols: standard file transfer protocol (FTP), Managed File Transfer (MFT) and Secure File Transfer (SFT or SFTP). In the age of big data and data compliance, businesses are faced with the challenge of moving files from point A to point B faster, more efficiently, and safer than ever.

Alas, selecting the right protocols for your business means understanding the nuanced differences between the three options. That’s what we intend to cover in the following article.

What’s the difference between MFT versus SFT versus FTP? Stay tuned to find out!

Managed File Transfer

MFTs are the platforms of the transfer protocols. They offer a foundational, automated, and secure way to approach the movement of data. Here’s what you need to know:

What Is It?

As mentioned above, MFT is a platform. This may make it seem more advanced than other protocols, and arguably it is. It offers administration capabilities coupled with automation and popular security protocols like HTTPS, SFTP, and FTPS. Often, the interface of MFT is designed for transparency and visibility. Generally, it’s a more secure transfer protocol than most others.

MFT offers options for accomplishing company data objectives while remaining compliant. With MFT your company can manage strategies around:

  • Data compliance
  • Operational efficiency
  • Secure management of data

Deploying MFT is considered a proactive data strategy, and as such, it has a number of benefits that will be flushed out below.

MFT: Benefits and Drawbacks

MFT has far fewer drawbacks than standard FTP. With heightened security measures, oversight capabilities, and a focus on compliance, the benefits of MFT line up with many business goals regarding the transfer of information. With MFT businesses get:

  • Visibility and increased control
  • Industry standardization of protocols
  • Replacement for file transfer processes that are less secure and effective

All in all, MFT is a top pick for businesses who want their big data to be secure and compliant.

How Does it Compare?

MFT is top of the line. It beats secure file transfers in complexity and nuance and crushes the competition when it comes to security. If we had to find some drawbacks to implementing a MFT strategy, it’s complexity may mean a learning curve is required for some users. Also, managed file transfer implies management is required. The introduction of visibility and transparency of the process offers no benefit if the processes aren’t being monitored.

Secure File Transfer

In this section, we’ll examine the network protocol that uses encryption to offer a more secure approach to “put” and “get” functions than standard FTP. Keep reading to learn more about SFT, also sometimes called SFTP:

What Is It?

FTP and SFT are both network protocols for “put” and “get” functions. With regards to billing data, data recovery files and other sensitive information that enterprise businesses need to hold and share, SFT offers encryption, whereas FTP does not. SFT was designed for the purposes of securely transmitting data.

To that point, SFT uses Secure Shell or SSH network protocol to transfer data across a channel. Data is protected as long as it’s in moving across the channel. Once it hits a secured server, it’s no longer protected. For additional encryption, senders would need to ensure encryption occurs in advance of sending.

SFT: Benefits and Drawbacks

The main benefit of Secure File Transfer is it is enhanced with encryption during the sending process, whereas regular FTP does not have such protection. It’s still second to an MFT platform, but SFT could be a less expensive alternative, depending on how much impact data transfer has on your business.

How Does it Compare?

It’s hard to describe how SFT and FTP compare to one another. Think of SFT as an evolution of FTP. FTP is generally unsecured communication between two parties, and therefore, it’s easily hackable. While transferring files over the internet was a novel concept for its time, what it lacked was security. As FTP evolved, FTP became secondary to FTP/S and the most recent iteration SFT, which differs from FTP/S in that it’s SSH, meaning that the client must be authenticated by the server.

So, how does it all compare? At a very basic level, you can think of SFT as a more secure, advanced version of FTP. Any business moving secure files should at least use SFT; however, MFT offers a high visibility platform with more data options, so, overall, it’s the best choice.

File Transfer Protocol

If you’ve made it this far, you probably have a general understanding of FTP. FTP was developed in the 1970s as an efficient way to transfer data between parties across a server channel. Ultimately, it became a process in which the internet is used to move data from point A to point B.

An average internet user may never have a need for FTP, but it’s essential in the world of software and web development. Development is at the core of many agile business models, and therefore FTP has become an important tool for enterprise businesses.

What Is It?

In short, FTP is a nuts and bolts, basic network protocol that offers “put” and “get” functions across an FTP server. Because it’s easy to set up and use, it has been an important tool for the enterprise business. However, when it comes to securing data, businesses must tread lightly as FTP is not known as a secure process, although some exceptions exist.

FTP: Benefits and Drawbacks

The benefit of FTP is that it’s been a significant protocol for enterprise businesses. And on a very basic level, it’s a fast and efficient way to move data. But in a business community driven by big data, which often includes customer information, passwords, and other sensitive items, FTP doesn’t cut it from a security perspective when there’s so much at stake and much better options for security and encryption.

Drawbacks of using FTP include:

  • Less secure than other types network protocols: vulnerable to bounce attack, brute force attack, and packet capture
  • No easy way to ensure compliance: unlike other protocols discussed, the lack of security could make it more difficult for FTP users with big data to be compliant.
  • Lacks visibility: FTP and SFT both lack the visibility of MFT.

At the end of the day, FTP is an important tool but not exceptional as it lacks the security of other options.

How Does it Compare?

FTP doesn’t have as much to offer in terms of security and compliance like SFT or MFT. However, it’s still used frequently in the enterprise world. It’s a common and inexpensive option for transferring non-secure information. For instance, marketing agencies will frequently use it to exchange proofs with clients. There will likely always be a reason to use FTP, but for businesses storing and exchanging big data, a more secure option should be necessary.

BMC: Your MFT Provider

When comparing MFT vs SFT vs FTP, there’s a clear victor. If you’re enterprise organization stores large amounts of data and hasn’t started using MFT, you could be losing out to the competition regarding data management.

BMC offers a file transfer solution in the form of Control-M Managed File Transfer. Tailored to the needs of digital businesses, Control-M offers an integrated, security-focused solution that offers presents a full visibility of transfer processes as part of an automated workflow orchestration platform. Control-M provides usefulness and efficiency across all levels of an organization from Administrator to Director of IT Ops.

Here are some of the things you can expect from Control-M MFT:

  • Increased, speedy visibility into transfer processes
  • Create application workflows
  • Increase the effectiveness of change response
  • Centralize processes around file transfer
  • Align transfers with the flow of business processes
  • Easy to audit
  • Reduce the costs of risk and remediation
  • Control user access

Control-M improves the speed and reliability of file transfers, too. This platform has a number of enterprise capabilities outside of file transfer. The big picture of the tool provides a centralized management platform for all of your big data functions. With an emphasis on automation and simplifying your day-to-day workloads, Control-M could be the all-encompassing solution for your organization. Check out this Control-M MFT demo to learn more.


See how Control-M can give you complete control over your file transfers

With Control-M Managed File Transfer, you can securely automate internal and external file transfers with all your business-critical applications and workflows from a central interface
Learn more ›

These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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About the author

Criss Scruggs

Criss Scruggs

Senior Manager, Solutions Marketing
With more than 19 years in technology product marketing and management, Criss Scruggs currently drives outbound marketing programs for Digital Business Automation including Big Data and DevOps initiatives at BMC. Additional areas of focus at BMC included solutions marketing for IT Service Management, IT Asset Management, and Mobile Device Management. Prior to BMC, Scruggs spent several years with other IT organizations focused on Systems and Applications Performance Management, VMware Management, and VoIP/Unified Communications Management businesses and several years in product management with Compaq/HP. Scruggs holds a master of business administration degree from The Jones Graduate School of Management, Rice University and a bachelor of arts degree in advertising from the University of Oklahoma.