When you get down to nuts and bolts, FTP servers are not the most complicated pieces of software. They combine an operating system’s file handling with Internet Protocol to move files around the Internet. However, these days FTP servers are finding uses in many corporate file-transfer situations because they can add protection and control that aren’t available through standard HTTP. Windows-based Visnetic FTPServer shines in security, access control, monitoring. It’s also a top-notch value at $149.95 (per server, unlimited users).
Visnetic’s Windows-based FTPServer offers the comforts of an Explorer-style interface with thorough security, access control, and monitoring features in a value package.
After roughly two minutes of installation, and a quick trip through the New Server Wizard, the real work of configuration takes place in the Visnetic FTPServer Administrator program. It provides a familiar user interface: a Windows Explorer-like tree of server elements (e.g. servers, groups, users), which are keyed to tabs that show settings and options for each. It’s not fancy but, perhaps because this type of interface is widely used, it seems comfortable and easy to follow. The same program can also be operated remotely.
While the majority of configuration involves users and security, FTPServer provides a few system-wide options. Bandwidth throttling is perhaps the most useful option. FTPServer allows transmission speed control at all levels (server, group, user). In a corporate setting, FTPServer can be made aware of a firewall through passive mode (PASV) using a specific router IP address or DNS name instead of the FTPServer’s IP address. There are no other settings or controls to deal with complex router/firewall conditions. Market positioning for FTPServer doesn’t convey the sense that it’s supposed to be an ultra high-speed performer and our use testing puts it in the middle of the pack. The approach is more along the lines that if one FTP server can’t handle the job, add another. Although this can be done with multiple instances of the server on a single machine, Deerfield.com sells a variety of server packs for multiple installations.
Strong Security and Control
Validating users before allowing file transfers is a key part of FTP security. By default FTPServer provides its own user authentication; it also supports Windows NT user authentication. Of course, if the server allows “anonymous” users (common), then it must also have ways of limiting that use.
For security while files are transmitted, FTPServer uses TLS/SSL encryption, combined with its own digital certificates to secure channels between FTP servers and clients. An additional layer of security is offered with S/key MD4 and MD5 password encryption. FTPServer keeps track of transmissions with logging utilities that record requests, transfers, and user activity. The logs use the W3C format and it supports log file rotation.
An outstanding aspect of FTPServer is the ability to set controls and limits at the levels of server, group, and individuals. These controls are extensive: directory permissions (who can access what and do what), upload/download ratios (overuse limits and protection against denial of service attacks), disk quotas (limits to use of disk space), IP filtering (prohibit specific IP addresses), virtual folders (hiding real folders), connection limits (denial of service protection), and file type restrictions. We particularly like the handling of groups, which is a quick way of assigning complex rights and limits to users. Although it will take some time and experience to master the various options, and some care not to be overzealous, FTPServer can be configured to a very precise level of security.
On the docket for Visnetic is support for an anti-virus plug-in (Visnetic Anti-Virus, a product based on Kaspersky Labs software). This will specifically screen filesuploaded to the FTP server and probably makes the most sense on dedicated FTP server systems.
From the end user point of view, Visnetic FTPClient is available from Deerfield.com ($39.95, one copy is included with FTPServer) as a companion product. Of course, any kind of FTP program will work with the server. FTPServer supports a fairly comprehensive list of message variables, which are used to create user-friendly (or at least user informative) messages during the use of the server. The user experience with FTPServer and FTPClient doesn’t have a lot frills, but then file transfer hardly needs it.
While Visnetic FTP Server doesn’t throw in bonus features, such as the IM support in found in Crush FTP, it covers all the important bases: security, access control, monitoring, and reasonable performance. This is one of the better Windows FTP servers, not so much because of outstanding features, but because of a good balance of capabilities with a good price.
Pros: Support for server, group, and individual controls.
Cons: Given its corporate use, better firewall support would be helpful.
Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 3/17/2003