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Blog February 20, 2020

FAQ: Should I use AWS Transfer for SFTP?

I hear this question most often from customers migrating legacy applications to AWS. To answer this question, let’s do a quick review of some of the terminology.

What is SFTP?

FTP stands for file transfer protocol. For years, it was the network protocol used for transferring files between the client and the server on a network. Like a lot of older technologies, FTP presented some issues with the security and integrity of the data being transferred. (FTP was first introduced in the 1970’s back when the IT security threat landscape was much simpler.)

Today, FTP has largely been replaced with SFTP to address the security and data integrity issues. SFTP stands for Secure Shell File Transfer Protocol, but even that is often shortened to Secure File Transfer Protocol. Clearly, the relevant aspect of the new name is the focus on security, and SFTP is the way to go.

Should I Use AWS Transfer for SFTP or Manage and SFTP Server In-House?

With that out of the way, the question at hand is whether you should use AWS Transfer for SFTP or save a few dollars every month by managing your own SFTP server in-house.

Here’s how AWS describes AWS Transfer for SFTP on their website:

AWS Transfer for SFTP is a fully managed service that enables the transfer of files directly into and out of Amazon S3 using the Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP)—also known as Secure Shell (SSH) File Transfer Protocol. AWS helps you seamlessly migrate your file transfer workflows to AWS Transfer for SFTP—by integrating with existing authentication systems, and providing DNS routing with Amazon Route 53—so nothing changes for your customers and partners, or their applications. With your data in S3, you can use it with AWS services for processing, analytics, machine learning, and archiving. Getting started with AWS Transfer for SFTP (AWS SFTP) is easy; there is no infrastructure to buy and setup. 

In short, AWS Transfer for SFTP is Managed SFTP, and like any other managed service, I recommend evaluating the cost as an opportunity cost. That is, most of my customers have the skills to manage an SFTP server in-house, but what is the cost of doing it themselves? IT professionals are stretched thin enough. Adding yet one more administrative task to their already-full plate can keep them from doing other higher-value-add work.

This is also the way many of our customers look at the Managed Services we provide, such as disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS), database administration, or Managed AWS. They could do these things themselves, but the opportunity cost of doing so (and the potential downside in today’s high-threat-level environment) are much higher than the cost of outsourcing it to us.

If you have specific questions about AWS Transfer for SFTP, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, and I’ll try to get those answered for you. Or, if you have additional questions you’d like to see us address in a future post, I’d love to hear from you.

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