Confusion, Vagueness Surround MFT in the Cloud

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Confusion, Vagueness Surround MFT in the Cloud

Companies and vendors alike are in a quandary when it comes to defining exactly what constitutes MFT in the cloud. This vagueness is particularly apparent when an organization issues a RFP that includes an MFT component and the vendor struggles to determine if that requirement is within its expertise. Such confusion further hinders companies that are considering moving business-to-business processes to the cloud or that are comparing multiple cloud service providers when a component of the outsourced process requires MFT.

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Defining MFT in the Cloud

The key to demystifying managed file transfer in the cloud is to define it and specify its requirements, a step that will help organizations better understand its value for moving large data sets. To help clear up the confusion, Liaison Technologies defines MFT in the cloud as "the secure and reliable transfer of data to, from and between clouds, regardless of size." Liaison further breaks down the definition's components as security, reliability and size.

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Key Component No. 1: Security

A key requirement for managed file transfer, whether traditional or cloud-based, is the secure transfer of files between two points. How security is ensured is up to the concerned parties, but it's driven by a host of industry compliance regulations and laws. It can be achieved by securing the communication session by sending files through a secure pipe established through a secure protocol such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Shell (SSH). Alternatively, files can be encrypted and sent over an insecure protocol. Some organizations do both. They send encrypted files over a secure protocol to guarantee data security both in transit and at its destination. Conversely, using FTP in the clear to move unencrypted files would not be considered managed file transfer as it would fail in the security requirement.

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Key Component No. 2:  Reliability

Provisions must be in place to ensure that files are reliably sent and received. This also means that the receiving entity must be available to receive files and process them. When using managed file transfer to move files to the cloud, the service-level agreement (SLA) should specify availability requirements and the timeframe within which files will be processed. Using a communication standard such as EDI-INT AS2 helps to meet these criteria by adding acknowledgments and non-repudiation of data to the solution set.

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Key Component No. 3:  Size

Managed file transfer was invented to solve the problem of securely transmitting large data files between trading partners. But what defines large? That's really between the companies involved to define, agree upon and enable. When transferring files to a cloud service provider, defining the size of files to be moved falls under the SLA. But there's another aspect to file transfer today. With the proliferation of big data generated from consumer, B2B and social networking sites and other Internet sources, it could mean transferring small files occasionally, or even streaming files continuously. An MFT cloud service should be able to handle all required types of transfers.

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Useful Option No. 1:  File Transfer Restarts

On occasion, the transmission of a large file will stop before it is completed. When that happens, transmission of the file starts again at the beginning. For a very large file, this could mean an unacceptable time delay. Some managed file transfer cloud providers offer the ability to "restart" an interrupted transmission at the point it failed. This extension is highly valuable when delivery time is crucial to the business.

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Useful Option No. 2:  Auditing

The ability to track the files—when they were sent, opened and deleted—and produce an audit report is important for business analysis and in some cases, for legal purposes and regulatory compliance. Many MFT cloud providers offer the ability to audit file transfers. This could be considered key for some organizations based on their auditing requirements or the type of business data movement involved.

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Choosing a Cloud MFT Provider

Clearly, any managed file transfer cloud service provider should at minimum ensure the secure, reliable transfer of any size file. Because customer requirements must be a subset of the provider's capabilities, it makes sense to choose an MFT cloud service that goes beyond these basic requirements. Those providers that offer advanced service options are typically more innovative and experienced and have a more mature MFT solution, inspiring a higher level of customer confidence while providing an easy upgrade path when additional capabilities might be needed.

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A Word About Service-Level Agreements

It's important to choose a managed file transfer cloud provider that is willing to tailor the service-level agreement to specific customer requirements at the beginning of the business relationship and also be flexible enough to adapt the agreement if those requirements change. For example, a customer's definition of what are large file transfers may change over time. If the provider cannot support that change, the customer will be put into the difficult situation of having to either re-architect the business process or shop for a new provider.

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MFT Adapts to the Cloud

As more organizations move their back-office processes to the cloud and with the inevitable increase of big data volumes and files moving at an increasing rate, managed file transfer is adapting to the cloud model. Unlike traditional MFT that transmits files point-to-point between trading partners' facilities, transmitting files to the cloud requires an agreement with the cloud provider and an SLA to ensure secure, reliable and timely transfers to maintain customer confidence.

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