There’s an argument to be made for stability and maturity, qualities often lacking in today’s technological frenzies. File Transfer Protocol, more commonly known as FTP, is one of the early vintages of the Internet era and has been around longer than the new kids on the block, such as peer-to-peer and even the World Wide Web. FTP has remained strong because it does the job it sets out to do, from driver and software download libraries to shared repositories for project teams.
A distinct advantage of FTP’s age is that such software products have had time to evolve and mature. Serv-U, a modern day server for an old-fashioned protocol, exemplifies this.
There’s an argument to be made for stability and maturity, qualities often lacking in today’s technological frenzies. File Transfer Protocol, more commonly known as FTP, is one of the early vintages of the Internet era and has been around longer than the new kids on the block, such as peer-to-peer and even the World Wide Web.
Serv-U, now produced by RhinoSoft, has a long history of evolution and has made a name for itself among Windows-based FTP servers. Version 3.0 is available in three flavors, including a free Personal Edition that supports basic FTP facilities but does not allow multiple simultaneous connections, more than five user accounts, ratios, remote administration, or symbolic links.
The Standard Edition of Serv-U adds 25 simultaneous connections and 100 user accounts, as well as symbolic links and quotas. The Professional Edition supports multiple virtual hosts, with unlimited simultaneous connections and user accounts, plus remote administration. Prices for the Standard Edition start at $39.95 for up to four servers; the Professional Edition is priced starting at $249.95 for up to four servers.
With a 2.3 MB download and a 4.5 MB installed footprint, Serv-U isn’t about to take over any of today’s mega-gigabyte hard disks. Serv-U’s installation wizard walks the system administrator through an initial configuration for the FTP server (easily modified later).
Security-minded administrators (and that should be all of them!) will appreciate the ease with which Serv-U lets them “chroot” an FTP directory. That is, it presents a user’s FTP space as the topmost directory. From there he or she cannot navigate any higher in the system. Serv-U accomplishes this with one mouse click, as opposed to requiring the coordination of several configuration files, as is the case with Unix-based FTP servers.
Being a Windows application, Serv-U wisely adopts the Windows Explorer interface — a tree structure familiar to any Windows user. Server configurations are stored in a logical hierarchy that includes global configurations such as maximum throughput speed which can be overridden at the user-specific level.
Being security minded, Serv-U global settings lets the system administrator limit “hammering” (users who try to connect frequently within a short span of time), thwart idle users, and minimize passive transfer modes. One could argue that the throttle — or maximum transfer rate — setting is useful but incomplete without a minimum throttle; that is, the capability to disconnect users who transfer below a certain rate. Servers that deliver especially large files, such as 65 MB ISO files for CDR burning, may have an interest in filtering out users whose lethargic connection speed would leave them suckling for days on end.
Below Serv-U’s global level is the virtual domain, where settings can apply to all user accounts within that domain. Here, the sys admin can allow or ban log-ins by IP address or name using wildcards, customize server messages, and set upload/download ratios that require users to upload files before they can download. An activity pane under the virtual domain summarizes active connections and what they are doing.
Within virtual domains reside users and groups. At the user level the administrator can override applicable global and virtual domain settings, such as maximum transfer rate, IP address filters, and ratios. With one click, a user account can be disabled or set to expire on a given date. While most server messages are customized at the virtual domain level, the administrator can also elect to define user-specific log-in greetings.
A detailed help manual accompanies Serv-U. RhinoSoft also hosts a support mailing list with searchable archives. Both of these are strong support features. Context sensitive-help would be an added benefit though, so that when looking at six options on a configuration page you can quickly bring up a summary of their meanings without hunting through the help file.
For most FTP needs, Serv-U Standard Edition offers the best value. The extra features available in the Professional Edition — namely unlimited virtual domains, connections, and remote administration — may be attractive to very large enterprises, but they are definitely premium features. Most organizations will find their needs served well by the Standard Edition.
Pros: 7 Familiar and intuitive interface, 7 Mature feature set that squeezes a lot of value from an old but reliable protocol, 7 Strong online support
Cons: Free version is too feature limited and Professional version costs a premium for a couple of enhancements, 7 Application lacks context-sensitive help, 7 Bandwidth throttle could use a minimum cut-off