Free SFTP Software vs. Enterprise-Level SFTP Software: Which Should You Use?

The adage “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” exists for a reason. When it comes to exchanging sensitive files with your trading partners, free software or PC tools might have some unappealing costs associated.

If you’re currently evaluating SFTP software for your organization, we recommend taking a deeper look at free SFTP software and enterprise-level SFTP software before you decide. What are the pros and cons of a free solution? What are the pros and cons of a commercial solution?

What is SFTP Software?

SFTP software can exist as an open-source PC tool like WinSCP or as part of a bigger solution, like managed file transfer. SFTP software can include a client, a server, or both, and its primary job is to move files over a secure shell (SSH) connection. AES, Triple DES, and other algorithms that come with SFTP software will encrypt those files as they transmit between users, systems, and networks.

Organizations who choose to work with SFTP software (as opposed to FTPS, AS2, or another secure FTP solution) generally do so to comply with trading partners’ requirements. That means the SFTP solution used needs good authentication measures to ensure proper access of files, keeping out those who aren’t authorized to decrypt and view the files exchanged. Most SFTP software allows users to test a connection with their user ID and password, an SSH key, or a combination of a password and SSH key for top security.

Free SFTP Software

As you evaluate your needs and budget, consider these factors against those for enterprise SFTP software to determine the right for your organization.

Free SFTP Software Positives:

  1. It’s priced right for occasional file transfers.

If you only exchange files occasionally with your trading partners, a free SFTP server and client solution might be the right fit. Free SFTP software may also work if you don’t need to prove compliance with data security standards or track file transfer activity for auditing purposes.

  1. It provides basic functionality.

Maybe you just want to implement something that satisfies your needs without any extra bells and whistles. If so, free SFTP tools can usually fulfill basic file transfer needs for user authentication, unlimited file transfers per server connection, and port usage control.

Free SFTP Software Negatives:

  1. Functionality is limited.

A positive for some and a negative for others, inexpensive or free SFTP tools rarely offer automation, auditing, monitoring, or other key features that make file transfers easy, secure, and affordable to execute. And they won’t help you be compliant with local or federal data security standards. Free SFTP solutions rarely come with additional security features, like integrated key and certificate managers or folder-level permissions, that can help ensure your data is protected under certain regulation requirements.

  1. Some SFTP clients require custom scripts to run file transfers.

Without the programming knowledge to build file transfer scripts, along with several other cumbersome tasks like manual auditing, running commands, and using secondary free tools to cobble together a final approach that works, your free solution can be pretty complicated. Scripting also introduces an aspect of human error that can end up compromising your business processes.

  1. Free tools may not get frequent updates and may not have support.

You get what you pay for here, which is: nothing, most of the time. This puts all the work of finding, fixing, and pushing the changes into your own hands. If staffing is limited, the time involved in a fix could set you back, especially if you depend on the free SFTP tool to run critical file transfers. Security updates are in the same bucket. A free tool may be updated infrequently or not at all, leaving you at risk of a cyberattack if you don’t patch the vulnerabilities yourself.

Enterprise-Level SFTP Software

Enterprise-level SFTP solutions typically require a small-to-medium investment. Like the free solutions, whether these are positives or negatives to you depends on your organization’s needs.

Commercial SFTP Software Positives:

  1. Enterprise-level SFTP solutions come with a variety of helpful features.

An enterprise-level SFTP solution works well for organizations with extra considerations. A managed file transfer solution that includes SFTP, for example, can support robust reporting and auditing, workflows and tasks for automatic encryption, file movement, and file processing, integrations with cloud services, secure file sharing for internal users, clustering and high availability for multiple systems, and more.

  1. Enterprise-level SFTP solutions can support compliance.

An SFTP solution’s auditing and reporting features can help organizations track file transfer activity for compliance with data security standards like PCI DSS, HIPAA, HITECH, FISMA, and the GDPR. Granular security settings for file transfer processes and clearly-defined user roles and groups can also help keep you compliant.

  1. Support will be available (including security updates).

Good enterprise-level SFTP solutions get frequent updates (at least every few months) to keep up with the latest cybersecurity and technology requirements. Dedicated support staff are also available to help when you have trouble.

Many vendors of enterprise-level solutions also offer professional services and training, so you don’t have to learn everything on your own or hire a programmer. This staff is there to help ensure your SFTP file transfers are a success.


  1. Commercial SFTP solutions support file transfers on the cloud.

Are you in the cloud or in a hybrid environment? Free SFTP tools are less likely to have a wide coverage of support on the various platforms and environments you need (for example, some may just run on Windows, and others may not integrate well with computing platforms like Microsoft Azure or AWS).

  1. Enterprise-level SFTP solutions are a great fit for companies of any size and industry.

A good solution will fit the needs of any team or organization, scale as you grow, and keep your file transfers centralized, so you don’t need multiple tools or in-house processes to keep things running smoothly.

Commercial SFTP Software Negatives:

  1. Enterprise-level SFTP software requires spending money.

While the price of an enterprise-level SFTP solution varies based on how many licenses you need and which features you add, it’s good to remember that a robust SFTP solution is an investment. It will cost money up front, but an ROI calculatorcan help you determine spend versus savings. Chances are high that you’ll save money and time.

If an initial quote is too high for you, ask vendors for alternatives. Most are willing to see if a scaled-down implementation will better align with your budget. And there is always the option to buy additional features later if the budget allows.

  1. Commercial SFTP server software may include more functionality than you need.

Check with the vendor you’re evaluating to see if the features you don’t want can be left off. If they can’t be left off, you might be able to use those extra features that help solve some file transfer roadblocks. Ask if they have a list of real use cases and projects; this type of resource can help you identify more uses for the software.

Explore Managed File Transfer, a Commercial SFTP Solution

Is a solution like managed file transfer, with support for secure FTP protocols, automatic encryption, auditing and reporting, and workflows, right for you?

April 9, 2019

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