After explaining to a friend the type of work I do as a bTrade managed file transfer (MFT) specialist, he said: “Moving data from one place to another is pretty simple.” Generally speaking, he is correct. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.
You need to know the details of your file transfer scenarios in order to deploy a truly effective “managed” file transfer system. Today, I want to go over three of the basic types of file transfer—B2B (Business to Business), A2A (Application to Application) and Ad hoc transfers.
Business to Business
This type of file transfer is the most common among our customers, and started way back when the internet was young. As computers started to appear in more and more businesses and get connected to dial-up networks, the ability to send purchase orders, invoices and all manner of data became easier to do.
Typically, a business connected itself to a VAN (Value Added Network) and the VANs connected to each other, thereby creating a common network with the ability to transfer all sorts of data to and from business partners. This system of interconnected VANs (called EDI or Electronic Data Interchange) was a boon to efficiency because it eliminated all the paper and allowed digital transfers. No longer would a business have to wait while volumes of documents were printed, put in envelopes, stamped, addressed and placed in the mail. Instead, the data would get transferred in the blink of an eye to a waiting connection. And a whole set of standards was created to make it easier to exchange data—e.g., standard document sets, common file formats, even conversion between those behemoth mainframe EBCDIC (Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code) systems and their tiny siblings speaking ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange).
But EDI has its own set of problems, not the least of which is cost. By the year 2000, VAN users were spending over $2 billion per year on network transmission costs. EDI also spawned the creation of arcane systems consisting of an eclectic combination of middleware products, highly engineered message systems and intentional latencies.
With the rise in popularity of the internet, companies looked to it as an alternative means of file transfer. They began using software to connect their networks directly to the internet and send the data between themselves with no middleman necessary (see the diagram below). This was the birth of B2B and the rise of MFT products.
One bTrade product, called TDCompress, was originally developed 20 years ago to decrease bandwidth requirements for sending data over expensive VANs. With companies sending increasingly larger files around the globe, the need to preserve bandwidth is no less critical now than it was years ago. Our compression technology helps users maximize their “last mile” bandwidth, and our entire suite of managed file transfer solutions conform to all major standards related to encryption, security and management, so users can be assured they will be able to transmit data with all trading partners regardless of the solution they have deployed.
Application to Application
The successes of MFT software in the B2B world prompted companies to explore other possible uses. Eventually, MFT software was used as the go-between to connect dissimilar applications, otherwise known as “application to application” or A2A transfers. The concept behind A2A transfers is really quite simple: Format and output the data from one application and use a reliable, easy-to-use MFT product to send it to another application.
From warehousing to manufacturing to medical data, once you had the files created from one application, it was simple to use your MFT software to move the files to where the other application could import them. One of the better examples is sending your purchasing information to your warehousing application, or distributing HR information to the various employee applications. This allows an automatic way to send related data to those other applications that can use it and allow for the importation of data into the respective systems. As this process matured and developed, MFT providers started to incorporate methods of sending the data directly. The most commonly used interfaces consisted of products like MQ Series, JMS Queues, or even just HTTP connections.
Ad hoc (aka, Business to Human)
To reiterate, MFT software has evolved to allow businesses to communicate regularly with other businesses, and applications to communicate regularly with other applications. Now, MFT is being used to handle those not-so-regular file communications, called ad hoc transfers.
Generally, MFT software is used to trade information on a regular basis with a defined set of entities, and use profiles to describe the connections and hold the security certificates that are necessary to transfer data securely. There are situations, though, where you have a need to transfer data securely to an individual, and not necessarily on a regular basis, and, for the most part, for whom we do not have a security certificate. For those situations, you could require a security certificate, and then set up your email system to use certificates on both sides. But such a system is cumbersome and time consuming.
You can use an MFT solution for these situations. Using a bTrade MFT solution, you would simply store the file using a secure method, then send a link to the user who can then access the file with a password that is sent separately (see below diagram). This solves the problem of sending secure files to many people on a one-time basis without needing to define a connection.
In addition, the bTrade solution allows users to leverage an Outlook email application. Our Outlook plug-in relieves some storage requirements from your mail server, as the attachments are stored in your MFT product. It also allows you to no longer worry about attachment size restrictions because the files are not being sent via email. With our ad hoc solution, you can send a large file to many people and the file will be stored only once, and then deleted when the last person downloads the file. We also allow you to do these sort of transfers even if you are not using Outlook or Exchange as your mail system. In these cases, a user would sign into the application using our GUI (Graphical User Interface) and then selecting an ad hoc transfer from the menu. You would then add the email addresses you wish to send to, and then our server takes over and pushes the email to the recipient through whatever mail server software you are using.
To learn more about the aforementioned file transfer scenarios and how bTrade’s MFT solutions can help your organization with its file transfer needs, contact me or our other MFT experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.