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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Comparing the costs of FTP/SFTP, Email, and SFTA for Secure File Transfer Needs

Summary: Why "industry standard" is often wrong, 20 years ago and today. And, a closer examine of the comparative costs of Accellion SFTA, FTP/SFTP, and Email for file transfer needs.

We all know how to make "apple to apple" comparisons. But, the reality is that "apple to orange" comparisons are far more common in the business world. I guess that's what makes our jobs more interesting. If all of our choices were "apple to apple," the decision process would get pretty obvious.

Why am I going off on a seemingly "fruitful" tangent? You see, I was having a chin-wag with a respected IT veteran and was told of the time when she was tasked to recommend whether her employer should go with leasing a word processing solution on a Wang Labs mini-computer and terminals vs purchasing and installing PCs with word processing software and connecting them by LAN.

(I realize that this may seem like an obvious decision today. However, 20 years ago, when PCs were considered marginally smarter than a dumb terminal and everyone you would meet on a professional basis considered the Wang Labs solution as the industry standard for enterprise word processing, the decision was anything but.)

The point is, it’s often difficult to do a direct comparison of two things because features and costs often do not line up one-for-one. On the other hand, her instinct that the PCs' capabilities were equally or more important than cost was right on. The LAN would usher in a new era of business process enablement where engineers were more productive because they could process their own documents whenever and however they wanted. And, instead of typing letters and files, secretaries could move into higher level roles (e.g. administrative assistants) and added more value to business processes new and old.

And, naturally, this recommendation launched our heroine to the better and brighter future that eventually let to our chitchat as related above.

Fast forward 20 years and compare FTP/SFTP or email attachment to a secure file transfer appliance from Accellion. IT teams are coming to Accellion for SFTA because, even though FTP/SFTP is a free utility on most server operating systems and email attachment is a standard capability of the email system that has already been paid for, SFTA is a Horizontal Business Process Improvement Opportunity. It's just like how installing PC and LAN can give you so much more than the "industry standard" word processing solution could 20 years ago.

How about the costs? SFTA is not free and how does the cost measure up against the "business process improvement opportunity"?

The costs of an SFTA include:
    * The purchase price of the appliance(s) for your organization
    * The annual maintenance agreement, which covers updates and support
    * The IT department’s implementation time, which is about an hour
    * Eliminating an overwhelming majority of support requests on secure file transfer needs

In dollar terms, there is a one-time purchase cost followed by the cost of less than one (<1)> headcount for an experienced IT person going forward because support and maintenance are largely automated and do NOT increase as the organization ramps up with SFTA usage.

The costs of FTP include:

    * The purchase of hardware for a dedicated FTP server and the time to setup the software to run ftp
    * The on-going time for administering FTP services, such as adding and deleting users, maintaining files, managing directories
    * User training and support as FTP is notorious for being user unfriendly.

In dollar terms, there is an one time hardware purchasing and software setup cost followed by one headcount for an experienced FTP administrator. And, as usage ramp up, there will need to be proportional increase in FTP staff for support. And, in extreme cases where the end users have tight deadlines, such as law firms and other professional service firms, the FTP support staff need to be available 24/7.

The costs of Email attachments includes:
    * The cost of increased storage capacity for the email system to process and store large attachment files
    * User time spent clearing out or archiving email messages when storage limits are hit
    * Monitoring and contingency procedures when an user inevitably decides to send a 50MB file to 20 recipients (and create a 1GB surge on the email server with a single click)
    * The nights and weekends spent in recovering from crashed email servers when that 1GB surge was not caught in time
In dollar terms, the hardware cost is often hidden as part of the overall email upgrade. However, the headcount cost for email administrator and IT support will increase as the usage spread in the organization. This is partly to monitor and prevent those attachment surges. And, you would expect to add more email administrators after the first email crash.

As you can plainly see, and please pardon the "buzz word", SFTA provides a Scalable secure file transfer process that lowers its usage cost as users adopt it. Whereas the traditional FTP/SFTP and email attachment processes are Not Scalable and requires more feeding and caring as more users come on-line.

So, the question is not unlike what our heroine faced 20 years ago. Do you go with the accepted "industry standards" with FTP/SFTP and email attachment for file transfer process or go with SFTA that has been proven in the field to lower the cost of same transaction while making the whole organization more productive?


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