Applications that span company boundaries: When a business application spans company boundaries, it’s often unrealistic to expect that a business partner will modify the way it conducts business to work with another organization. In the real world, most industries have adopted standard practices on how to exchange information; these practices typically involve the exchange of electronic files rather than the tight integration offered by messaging systems.
Many integration vendors that leverage message-based systems offer little or no way to incorporate file-based integration. These vendors typically see batch processing or Managed File Transfer (MFT) as being outside the scope of their product offerings. Too often, they simply leverage FTP, which offers no added value and carries significant limitations. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t become aware of these limitations until their critical integration projects are under way. Then, they’re left scrambling to seek viable alternatives that support their needs.
Achieving Better Mainframe Integration
Message-based systems don’t offer sufficient ways to tie file-based integration into an integration strategy, so what can organizations do? A multi-platform MFT solution can easily be deployed alongside your messaging technologies (see Figure 1), offering a complete solution for any integration project. MFT offers enterprise-strength file transfer with the reliability, security, and auditing required to effectively manage your mainframe and distributed environment.
Deploying an MFT application as part of your overall integration strategy lets you choose the right tool for each specific project. An MFT solution goes far beyond simply solving the security problems around file transfer. An MFT solution offers a centralized management capability for all file transfer and uses open standards to make itself available as an interoperable service in your multi-platform or SOA environment. An MFT solution also delivers:
Control and management: Secure, centralized control and management of all transfer servers, regardless of platform or location. This must include letting an organization manage users across and beyond the enterprise, the ability to log all file transfer activity, and the ability to produce detailed audit and activity reports in real-time. Alerts and event-driven notifications also should be part of the core MFT solution. Typically, all this will be accessed from a single, unified interface.
Guaranteed delivery: This is critical in an MFT solution and means the data to be transferred is absolutely, positively transferred to its intended destination and that the file arrives in its entirety and on time. This becomes critical in environments contingent upon service-level guarantees. Guaranteed delivery is possible only in advanced MFT systems, through the use of proprietary protocols that provide error detection and notification as part of the protocol, as well as queuing, automated restarts, and exception alerts.
Automation: This is a key feature. A true end-to-end solution will automate many important steps and processes and provide event-driven transfers for real-time initiation of data movement between your mainframe and all other distributed platforms. This is critical to supporting the unattended “lights-out” requirements at many data centers. Look for the ability to automatically:
• Transfer files
• Process files once delivered
• Recover from errors without human intervention.
Security: This must be engineered into every aspect of the solution. In an MFT solution, it must start with comprehensive authentication and authorization for all users, servers, and clients in the network. This should be tied into the native operating system security, whether it is RACF, ACF2, Top Secret, or Active Directory. In addition, each server should contain its own authentication and authorization schematics so access can be restricted with granular detail. Encryption of all file transfers is absolutely key, as is delegated administration, which ensures system administrators have powers consistent with their organizational role and security status.
Typically, advanced MFT solutions will coexist with your integration system right out-of-the-box. They can either run within the existing integration system’s environment or leverage one of the open protocols the integration system supports. This provides a stable, scalable way to pass data between the file-based and message-based worlds.
For many mainframe shops, the best approach is to leverage a multi-platform MFT system in combination with a messaging system. This may seem like a tough sell in today’s climate, but getting budget approval may not be as difficult as you think. A solid ROI can be developed to justify a move away from FTP or your legacy file transfer solutions, which tend to be rudimentary in nature and often require extensive customization to meet organizational needs. This customization can be resource-intensive and costly. Moreover, the necessary levels of customization make the deployment difficult to modify as business needs evolve.
Standardizing on an MFT solution can help rationalize an organization’s file transfer processes across all platforms. An advanced MFT system will deliver centralized control and management, maximized security, and improved tracking and audit support. By leveraging a modern MFT capability, your two systems can be complementary and provide a robust, scalable integration solution for both messages and files.