If you are reading this blog, chances are you are familiar with IBM's MFT (Managed File Transfer) solution Sterling. If you are not, Sterling is an acquisition which IBM made a number of years ago, taking with it a large swathe of international customers who use the Sterling product line to move files between external and internal (and vice versa).
IBM Sterling is one of those solutions which feels like it has been around since the beginning of the earth and for must customers of the solution, they have been using for just as long.
Handling critical file movements in the company network, few want to touch it for fear of severe disruption. However, if being reviewed, would likely be pulled up on a number of shortcomings which once upon a time seemed trivial but today are problematic.
Take for example IBM Connect:Direct, a client-server data transfer interface inside of the Sterling system which allows for files to be received from a sending party (PNODE). For many using IBM Sterling, Connect:Direct is a featured part of their infrastructure that we think is woefully out of date and needs replacement.
Here is why:
1 - The Connect:Direct Protocol is Proprietary
Owned by IBM, this file transfer mechanism, or dare we call it a protocol for sake of comparison, is proprietary... or at least the receiving node (SNODE) must be a licensed IBM Sterling node.
It doesn't take much thought to realise that the use of proprietary protocols, especially when receiving connections from third-parties, means you are severely restricting your workflows to IBM solutions only.
As a result, we have been part of numerous replacements of IBM Sterling solutions, for MFT solutions which use widely-used & open standard protocols such as SFTP. By using open standards, your third-parties are free to select from a much wider market of solution to interface with you.
2 - A Lack of File Transfer Security in the Base Solution
Today, it is very unlikely that you would be able to deploy a solution such as MFT without the involvement of your security team...and for good reason!
Critical file transfers often contain sensitive information which needs protecting. You might then be surprised to learn that out-of-the-box, IBM Sterling Connect:Direct has no data encryption, instead relying on authentication and proxies.
In order to include TLS encryption of files, you would need to purchase another plugin called IBM Sterling Connect:Direct Secure Plus.
3 - Expertise Are Limited
With both Sterling and Connect:Directing being commercial solutions and proprietary, expertise and available information about both on the internet is sparse.
Great for monetising training and professional services engagements, but not for those with limited budgets or without active service agreements with IBM.
This is another reason why we recommend to our customers that they move to open standards like SFTP, where there is a plethora of information available online; plus a general understanding of the protocol in the wider IT community.
4 - It is Prohibitively Expensive
This may be a subjective comment on our behalf, however if compared with other MFT solutions, IBM Sterling and Connect:Direct is very expensive.
As mentioned earlier in the article, we have been a part of many an IBM Sterling replacement and have always been astounded at the costs associated with owning and maintaining the solution. On some occasions, the professional services from IBM alone cost more than implementing an entirely new solution.
Cost-saving is therefore an obvious benefit of shifting to a new MFT solution.
What is the Alternative?
We always recommend the very popular and award-winning Ipswitch MOVEit managed file transfer solutions, a solution set we have been working with for well over ten years now. Comparing feature for feature, it is a sure replacement for IBM sterling, offering all of the same features and more.
Automated file transfers.
Re-establishment of interrupted transfers.
Complex workflow logic.
Encrypted file stores.
Wide variety of authentication methods.
Dashboards and reporting.
Use of open standard protocols.
Best of all, it is a modern and much cheaper alternative used by tens of thousands of customers globally.