Managed File Transfer and Middleware have both undergone a period of evolution in the past few years. Historically speaking, the early days of both can be easily traced back to the need to move data between various parts of a computer network, generally over simple protocols like FTP or RCP. As a consequence and especially as organisations began to move away from legacy environments, many networks contained an inordinate number of FTP servers, frequently with an unknown array of FTP clients pushing and pulling data in an often uncontrolled fashion.
Middleware stands up…
This became a standard argument for switching to using a middleware product – taking back control of your network and the data that crossed it. Most early middleware systems used a hub and spoke affair and provided a central point where all data would arrive and depart from. Additionally, the notion of data transformation during transit became popular, rather than the more traditional manipulation during processing at source or target system. A ‘code once use many times’ approach appeared for interfaces, allowing for a reduction in development costs, and the only limitation appeared to be the ever-growing range of available connectors.
The beginning of MFT…
FTP servers didn’t go away however; instead organisations began to centralise their FTP sites and a newer smarter generation of FTP server software began to appear. These early versions of Managed File Transfer quickly developed a common set of standard features – encryption, automation, protocol support and user management.
Which is which?
As both middleware and Managed file transfer systems matured, the boundaries between them began to diminish somewhat, with Managed file transfer performing some middleware functions and vice versa. Now we have reached a point where the practical differences have become a little fuzzy, however it shouldn’t be impossible to follow some simple guidelines to decide upon whether an architect should be following a middleware or a managed file transfer approach.
A good starting point is data transformation. Traditionally this falls squarely within the realms of middleware; however there are Managed file transfer solutions which can offer this feature well enough to be considered. In contrast, most middleware does not provide an FTP interface for end-users, relying instead on web services for input or FTP clients for output. An organisation therefore has to review its requirements – do they need an Managed file transfer solution with some middleware functionality, or middleware with some Managed file transfer?
Middleware VS MFT