FTP just doesn’t cut it today


1971 – A time before some of us were even born (well me anyway!) in April of this year the first FTP standard RFC 114 was published, over the coming months revisions were publish in RFC 192 and RFC 265 then later RFC 354, many more RFC’s would be published over the year following that initial publication and it wasn’t until June 1980 that the modern FTP was published, naturally there were more RFC’s following that to bring us to what is available today.

38 years on from that original publication of the standard and some companies that are moving large quantities of data between servers are still using FTP as the protocol of choice… are they crazy? Let’s face it FTP is cheap, it has to be since it has been around for so long, way before desktop computers had even entered our imagination, but having a cheap service doesn’t necessarily mean that the solution is cheap for the business.

Transfer securityFTP as we know it has many flaws when we look at it in pre-media, for me the main flaw was always organization, followed closely by file support, looking at just these two items in a little more detail we can see that when you log onto a standard FTP account (not even in pre-media, but try any public FTP) you will see no more than a file system, therefore the taxonomy of the storage needs to be organized extremely well for you to find what you are looking for, but wait we have another problem, to include any type of information about the files you will need to store them in folder upon folder due to the limitation of file name length…. Big down point.

Then if that wasn’t bad enough, if you are in pre-media and exchanging Apple Mac files, you need to compress them all first, yes even today still with OSX certain file types must be compressed to retain their resource forks, not so much the case when you are using OpenType fonts, but let’s face it, how many companies have forked out the cash to upgrade their font libraries to OpenType, and how do you control what’s coming in from others…. you can’t! Oh I hear you say, you under the font licenses you shouldn’t be sending fonts….! Yes we know, show me one company that actually adheres to the out dated font licensing laws, and show me one way that the industry bodies can monitor and enforce those laws! I thought not, so that practise will carry on forever!

Well here we are, again something else that is well, pretty unmanageable with FTP, user management. Why? well typically your IT department has to manage those users, create the accounts, manage the permissions, manage the servers and the data, create quota’s, yes getting IT to manage something that they don’t really care for, what happens…. it becomes a complete mess…. yes ok I hear you say, the IT guys will apply some rules, set some retention policies blah blah blah, but actually it’s still a mess, it’s still uncontrolled and still no one has responsibility for who sees what and who deletes what & when!

It’s ok, really it is, there are many solutions out there that are there to help, ranging from truly enterprise class applications, to purple box over a dedicated network…. Did I mention the purple box, oh yes, naming no names here but WamNet became the solution for those who were serious, and you know, they nearly had it right, so close, oh so close, but what happened, well some would say they got greedy, others would say they stopped innovating, I would just say that more choice became available and thus pushed them out the market (I guess they will say they still have a big slice, and I’m sure they do, but for smaller companies their costs are prohibitive) Their serious competition used to be Vio….. Has anyone heard from these guys in the last few years? Looking at their site it looks like they bailed out of the comms business to bring some added value applications.

What do we know about our business requirements today, and what do we know about the B2b & B2c, well we need to integrate it into our presentation layers that we have on the web, we need it to be completely dumb, i.e you don’t have to think about what file types you are uploading and you need to be able to include metadata (notice I didn’t say job ticket there, sorry guys, needs to be more flexible) and you need to manage the workflow….

Oh there it is again, workflow, yes workflow, the ability to do stuff based on other stuff, you know, vendor A sends some files, the upload agent notifies a team that the files are on their way with a list of what has been sent, the files arrive and an action or service is triggered, (maybe a Flightcheck) based on the action maybe statuses are updated on the portal blah blah blah….

WorkflowOk can you do that with FTP, no no no, FTP you might run some scripts, maybe purge the files maybe even run some actions, but it can’t provide you with a rich user experience based on your own protal UI. Well ok you could integrate it into your portal UI, but the new modern File Transfer Systems provide so much more, Clients applications, API’s, bandwidth throttling, Transfer Management, Workflow, Analytics and more, what’s more there are so many around today based on the level of stuff you need to do. Heck even on the personal 1-1 basis there are options, for instance I use Dropbox which allows me to share files (this site lists some nice apps) but for pre-media companies there are some serious contenders, I once installed nVerge across 6 sites, wasn’t anything fancy, just moved files from A to B in a managed fashion, at the time it was based on hotfolders and suited what it was required for, but I’ve also used MassTransit, a far bigger and more flexible solution, and since I last used it they have released a new version that makes it easier to integrate into your companies Active Directory structure making the management of users a lot easier. But the last one I had the pleasure of using was Signiant, this one offered a lovely manageable way to move high volumes of data around with the added ability of workflow for your files, this one has been hiding away in the media world, but as pre-media companies start producing larger volumes of data to be shifted around and start the video and broadcast departments, this solution becomes a nice one to review. But they are just 3 I have used, and it only takes a google to find a tonne of others that other (or promise to offer) similar solutions. One making inroads into the UK is FileCatalyst offered through Turning Point Integration, I’m yet to see it, but it talks a good game.

Remember though make sure you have detailed out what your requirements are and that you understand the security requirements of your customers, most of these solutions that offer increased thought of speeds faster than a speeding bullet will use the UDP protocol, something most IT departments block!

So you can see that today FTP being a 38 year out technology really does need the new bells & whistles to make your business more efficient and offer better business to business connections, and ok it will cost you some money, but the staff time savings alone will easily justify those!.

Author: Gary George

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10 Responses to “FTP just doesn’t cut it today”

  1. FTP just doesn’t cut it today | Prepress Says:

    […] View strange post here:  FTP only doesn’t cut it today […]

  2. Tunicca Pre-Media Blog « Crossmediaspecialist.nl Says:

    […] toe te voegen. De afgelopen periode heb ik een paar goede posts gelezen van Gary George over o.a. FTP, een mogelijke toekomst voor papieren kranten en een post over de nieuwe versie van Elvis, een […]

  3. James Lewis Says:

    Great article Gary which I read with interest. You’re right FTP in its purest form isn’t great but the issues with file name length, resource forks and data structure and logging can be and is addressed when using certain solutions and retaining FTP as the delivery protocol.

    I worked for 4Sight and laterly acquired Hermstedt (for their StingRay file transfer server), so saw at first hand what FTP did for the ISDN vendors. I don’t see FTP being quite so susceptible though but you’re right there are a lot of alternative solutions springing up although many are extremely pricy, don’t last long or are acquired by larger fish as with nVerge from DZG which we distributed for a while before they were acquired by Adstream

    As for the Managed vendors – WAM!NET’s focus has moved on from the Graphic Arts and Prepress industry as they have larger fish to fry in the hosting world. Vio are still around but focusing more attention on advertising delivery and workflow with their recent re-launch of Adsend based upon the technology from Omnilab in Australia.

    There are a great many file transfer vendors, products and delivery protocols that it can be a minefield. At Pro2col file transfer is what we do – all day every day – so anyone with any questions about which solution is right for them can get in touch for advice or follow our blog – all about file transfer 🙂



  4. tele2002 Says:

    Thanks James, we are increasingly amazed at the number of companies who are still struggling with FTP, most are driven by IT departments that think FTP is all they need and won’t consider the workflow implications FTP brings. Your right nVerge seemed to lose it’s way when Adstream snapped it up, probably a good thing for DevZeroG but for the existing users who have seen no improvements in the product it was a real kick in the teeth.

    The big players do tend to be expensive, and I know of one that was once pitching itself out of the market has now dramatically dropped it’s prices to stay in the race.

    My point is and nicely supported by you is that FTP doesn’t cut it, there is a solution, and your problem is not unique to anyone elses.

  5. James Lewis Says:

    I think the problem with IT departments is that FTP is something that many IT administrators understand and can ‘administer’. Given todays current climate some staff won’t want to relinquish control over a part of their job function for a solution which works better for the company.

    The nVerge situation is a real challenge – we have many customers using it worldwide who are understandably concerned. There are various solutions available which can fit into this space but then customers have already spent the money only to have their fingers burned once before.

    One solution to the FTP headache that I really should shout about is Hermstedt’s StingRay file transfer server (http://www.hermstedtstingray.com). It takes FTP and adds value to it with all of the extra features needed from a solution for printers, publishers and the rest of the graphic arts industry.

  6. Keith George Says:

    While I agree with the whole sentiment of this article,
    FTP is not free just cost effective.

    On a recent blog I read, discussing the changing nature of premedia, in an industry that has moved away from its core business and is continuing to evolve at an alarming pace, where we are seeing the convergence between IT and Repro how can you “Remember though make sure you have detailed out what your requirements are and that you understand the security requirements of your customers”

  7. FOLIO Production Survey for Publsihers says… Says:

    […] although as reported here, is almost as old as me, is still the preferred and main method of file transport to the […]

  8. Bill Bartmann Scam Says:

    Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! 🙂

  9. Charles Dostale Says:

    I agree ftp is old technology. One of the biggest problems with ftp is that many corporate users behind a proxy and firewall can’t access ftp servers.

    We use a PHP script that allows web-based access for most of our Internet file transfers. Everyone has a browser, and every firewall and proxy allows HTTP on port 80. For larger files we use WebDAV, which uses, wait for it, HTTP on port 80. For either solution we could implement using HTTPS for added privacy and security but don’t find a need with current usage.

    The drawbacks to using WebDAV are most people don’t know about it, and Microsoft is withdrawing WebDAV support from its base operating system installs ( Vista + ). If you use a recent version of Windows, you have to install Office to get WebDAV support.


  10. FOLIO Production Survey for Publishers says… | Markzware Says:

    […] although as reported here, is almost as old as me, is still the preferred and main method of file transfer to the […]

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