Does anyone get excited about FTP servers these days? Not so much, in an Internet dominated by younger, sexier technologies such as Instant Messaging and P2P file sharing. But that doesn’t mean these old stalwarts are ready to put out to pasture — the File Transfer Protocol has stuck around for over a decade with good reason: it gets the job done, and that job is to transfer files between server and client. What has especially changed over the years is the sophistication of FTP servers. It used to be that the client would say, “hey, give me that file,” and the server would simply pony up the file — no questions asked. South River Technologies’ Titan FTP server is a good example of how far FTP servers have come, with highly granular controls that let the server administrator configure nearly every last detail of how the server will behave, under what conditions, and with whom.
At the low end, Titan FTP can’t compete with freely available FTP servers, but at the enterprise level, Titan FTP shines with its advanced management tools and support for multiple server configurations.
Titan FTP is a slim download by today’s broadband standards, weighing in a hair shy of four megabytes and less than two megabytes installed. The server is designed to run only on Windows-based platforms, although it does support the full range of Windows flavors beginning with the venerable Windows 95. Although Titan FTP can be administered remotely, the administration interface is also limited to Windows platforms, rather than a platform-independent Web-based administration tool. The installation routine is clean and straightforward, and makes good use of wizards to walk the administrator through initial setup of the server. The wizards are well executed and a breath of fresh air compared to grappling with server configuration files.
Despite the long history behind FTP, Titan FTP feels very modern, both in GUI design and its multithreaded architecture. On the latter subject, the Professional Edition of Titan FTP can support an unlimited number of virtual servers on one physical machine — a nice touch for supporting several FTP servers under the jurisdiction and control of one administration platform. The Professional Edition continues in this vein with support for an unlimited number of user accounts and concurrent connections. In contrast, the lower priced Personal Edition supports only one FTP server per physical machine, and 25 each of user accounts and concurrent connections.
Administering Titan FTP is all about granularity. Each domain represents a physical machine on which the server software is installed. Because the software can administer remote machines, you can access multiple domain configurations simultaneously from a single interface — especially nice for a network of multiple physical FTP servers. Within each domain you may have one or more virtual servers, each with its own independent set of administration controls.
The precise behavior of the server can be regulated at the server level, or more deeply at the level of defined groups and users. Nearly all controls are granular down to the user level, allowing for extremely precise configurations. The list of access controls itself is as long as a fine bistro’s wine list: concurrent connections, upload and download quantity, bandwidth, and size per session, full sets of permission controls per-directory, quotas, upload/download ratios, and IP access filters. To name a few.
Several security controls are available to limit abuse from clients. Administrators can block anti-timeout measures that some clients use to hang onto a connection while idle. Access can be blocked if a client attempts a given number of bad commands or invalid password attempts, implying that an automated bot may be trying to find a way in. Bounce attacks and FXP transfers can be blocked, which are the FTP analogue to money laundering, wherein the mischievous use passive mode transfers to move illicit files between two remote servers. Perhaps most notably, Titan FTP also supports SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, security. When in use with clients that support SSL over FTP, all communications between the server and client are encrypted. Typical FTP communications are unsecure, which leaves such information as usernames and passwords vulnerable to snooping and interception.
South River hasn’t let documentation and support become an afterthought. A reasonably detailed manual with explanations of configuration details is available from both the administration tool and on the Web site. Although most administrators will be familiar with most of the concepts involved in setting up an FTP server, because Titan FTP features so many detailed controls, a reference comes in handy just in case you need a hint with an obscure parameter such as “Allow user to MDTM.”
The South River Web site touts Titan FTP as enterprise class, and in this respect, the Professional Edition is a strong performer at a good value. In fact, with its plethora of advanced features and orientation towards multiple server configurations, Titan FTP is perhaps at its best when used in this scenario. These same strengths may mean that Titan FTP is over-featured for the Personal Edition market, where free, albeit less sophisticated, alternatives are available.
Pros: Combines ease-of-administration with sophisticated configuration, elegant support for multiple virtual and physical servers, strong value for professional class use.
Cons: Limited to Windows platforms, lacks Web-based platform-independent administration interface, less well suited in feature set and price for home market.
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original review date: 3/31/2003
Original review version: 2.02