Easy, flexible, and secure file transfers can be difficult to achieve using standard tools. SolarWinds Serv-U file transfer protocol (FTP) Server and Serv-U managed file transfer (MFT) Server offer fast, easy, and secure file transfers. We review SolarWinds Serv-U and take a look at features, price, and impressions.

Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee has been in the IT industry 15+ years and focuses on networking and virtualization. He contributes to the community through various blog posts and technical documentation primarily at Virtualizationhowto.com.

Businesses today are very data-centric. This means that storing and working with data as well as safely transmitting data is very important to the workflows of today's businesses. Your organization may need to share files or actually move files back and forth between trading partners on regular intervals.

Whatever the use case for either sharing or moving files between your business and someone else, you want to have a solution to do this quickly, efficiently, and securely. SolarWinds Serv-U MFT Server is a product able to enhance security and control file transfers in and outside your organization. Is it able to do this effectively to handle the sharing and transmission of your business-critical file and data resources? In this review, we will take a look at SolarWinds Serv-U MFT Server, its key features, impressions while using the product, and compare it with Serv-U FTP Server.

Overview ^

SolarWinds Serv-U MFT Server allows you to share, exchange, and access files from anywhere. It supports a wide range of file transfer protocols, such as FTP, FTPS, SFTP, HTTP, and HTTPS. The SolarWinds FTP Voyager client and general FTP scripts, desktop clients, servers, and tablets can connect to Serv-U server.

The Serv-U MFT Server lets you upload, download, and edit files from any desktop web browser. Web Client PRO allow you to transfer multiple files, very large files, or drag and drop files from local file systems. With the mobile access, you can view documents from popular devices such as iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. The Serv-U management console is accessible from any web browser, which makes managing the solution easy for IT operations.

A tree control on the left keeps system and domain settings separate and maintains quick access to user management options, monitors, and settings.

Serv-U key features ^

What are the key features of the SolarWinds Serv-U solution? Serv-U offers several key features to note, including the following functionality:

  • Securely transmit files over a reliable connection: Uses a range of security protocols including FTP, FTPS (FTP over SSL/TLS), SFTP (FTP over SSH2), HTTP, HTTPS (HTTP over SSL), IPv4, and IPv6 networks. It also supports FIPS 140-2 validated cryptography.
  • Provide an easy way for ad-hoc file sharing to send and receive files: Senders only need to upload a file to the Serv-U and set an expiration date. Serv-U emails the download link to the recipient. The recipient can then download the file.
  • Transfer files easily with web and mobile devices: Upload and download files from any device and any network, supporting file transfers, multiple file transfers, side-by-side transfers, and folder synchronization.
  • Easily transmit and receive large files: Files over 3 GB in size are large. These are easily transferrable using Serv‑U.
  • Provide a central location for file transfers, management, and automation: Perform file transfer administration and management easily using a single, easy-to-use web console. Administrators can easily set up domains, add users and groups, monitor FTP transmissions, logs, and define permissions, among other capabilities.
  • Easily comply with regulatory requirements: Serv-U can support FIPS140-2 validated cryptography and is geared for meeting the strictest compliance standards, covering complete process of file sharing, access, encryption, and system logging.
  • Integrate your file transfer permissions and user access with existing Active Directory (AD) and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) servers: Centralize permissions for your file transfers based on your existing identity source, whether it be AD or LDAP servers.
  • Monitor FTP activity and domain logs conveniently and easily: Logs and monitoring are easily accessible via the web console. You can view and monitor FTP server and domain logs online for help with quick troubleshooting and error handling. These logs can be forwarded to log management and SIEM tools for further analysis and reporting
  • Use event triggers to automate actions based on activity and events seen: Provide levels of automation to your file transfers using event triggers and customizable automated actions.
  • Customize the look and feel of your web client branding: Customize your file transfer portal with the look and feel of your business, including custom logo, text and advanced custom CSS
  • Set up file transfer permissions and user access: Set up limits and permissions for FTP operations and processes with variety of customizable options for FTP command processor, SSL/SSH encryption, certificates, and file-sharing permissions defined at the user, group or domain level.

Requirements ^

The requirements from a hardware perspective for Serv-U depend on the amount of traffic that will be traversing the Serv-U server. The requirements are fairly modest nonetheless.

Hardware requirements are as follows:

General minimum requirements
HardwareMinimum requirement
CPU 11 GHz+ (Dual Core Recommended)
RAM256 MB+
Network10/100 Mbps NIC
Hard drive space30 MB
Video128 MB video RAM
Up to 500 users; 25 simultaneous transfers
HardwareMinimum requirement for modest traffic
CPU2 GHz+ multi-core
RAM2 GB+
Network10/100/1000 Mbps NIC
Hard drive space120 GB
Video128 MB video RAM
Up to 10,000 configured users; 250 simultaneous transfers
HardwareMinimum requirement for high traffic
CPUMultiple 3.2 GHz+ multi-core
RAM4 GB+
Network10/100/1000 Mbps NIC
Hard drive space120 GB
Video128 MB video RAM

Operating system and software requirements include:

Operating system or softwareRequirement
Microsoft Windows2019
2016
2012, 2012 R2
2008 R2, 2008 RS SP1
LinuxRed Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) v.7.2 (recommended)
Fedora 24
Ubuntu 16.04
CentOS 7.2
OpenSUSE 42.1
Database server (optional)MS SQL 2014, 2014 SP1, 2014 SP2
MS SQL 2012, 2012 SP1, 2012 SP2, 2012 SP3
MS SQL 2008 R2, 2008 R2 SP1, 2008 R2 SP2, 2008 R2 SP3
MySQL 5.7
PostgreSQL: 9.5
LDAP server (optional)Active Directory: same as Windows Server support
Open Directory 4
OpenLDAP 2.4

Versions (FTP vs. MFT) ^

You will notice if you visit the Serv-U page from SolarWinds, there are two different products referenced. There is Serv-U FTP Server and Serv-U MFT Server. While each product is very similar, they each have their proposed use case. However, note the Serv-U MFT Server contains all the functionality of the Serv-U FTP Server. Which solution would you pick between the two?

To provide some distinction between the two, Serv-U FTP Server's design offers quick, easy, and reliable file transfers requiring FTPS to secure FTP, scripted transfers and limited number of users. Serv-U MFT Server goes beyond this and offers full corporate-grade file transfers supported by FTP, FTPS, SFTP, and HTTPS to ensure compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA), Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), and other standards. As a version comparison between the two, take a look at the following table to understand the differences between the two products and which desired capabilities would determine which solution you would choose.

FeatureServ-U FTP ServerServ-U MFT Server
Domains3Unlimited
User accounts250Unlimited
Concurrent sessions100Unlimited
Access local and shared storage from anywhereYesYes
Virtual folders, groups, and granular permissionsYesYes
Transfer rations and quotasYesYes
Automated file managementYesYes
Events, notifications, and conditional executionNoYes
“Ad-hoc” file sharingNoYes
Windows or Linux (Red Hat, SUSE, etc.)YesYes
Native 64-bit applicationYesYes
High AvailabilityNoYes
IPv6 and IPv4YesYes
FTP and HTTPYesYes
FTPS (via SSL/TLS)YesYes
SFTP (via SSH2) and HTTPS (via SSL/TLS)NoYes
FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographyNoYes
Basic web clientYesYes
Support for iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc.YesYes
Web Client Pro (large files and multiple transfers)YesYes
FTP Voyager JV (sync and side-by-side transfers)NoYes
Tray icon and local management consoleNoYes
Self-serve password recoveryNoYes
Remote web and iPad management consoleNoYes
User and group statistics (auditing and reporting)NoYes
Domain setup wizard for file sharingNoYes
Custom branding for file sharing guest UINoYes
Active Directory or LDAP authenticationNoYes
Third-party integration via API or DBNoYes
Custom web client logo, text, and HTMLNoYes
Email supportYesYes
Phone supportNoYes

Pricing ^

There is also a significant difference in price between the two products.

Serv-U FTP Server

ServersConcurrent sessionsPrice per server
1100$495

Serv-U MFT Server

ServersConcurrent sessionsPrice per server
1Unlimited$2,995
2-4Unlimited$2,555
5-9Unlimited$2,245
10-24Unlimited$2,055
25+Unlimited$1,975

Benefits of using Serv-U MFT over Serv-U FTP ^

FTP is a commonly used file transfer methodology. Organizations adopt MFT to meet broader use cases and business requirements. It offers additional features and functionality to make it a comprehensive file transfer solution. It facilitates fast and secure data transfers for large and small organizations. As you examine the table of feature comparisons above, you will note the following:

  • FTP: Offers basic file transfer requirements, including FTP/FTPS and HTTP protocols
  • MFT: Offers broader IT needs and larger file transfer and file sharing requirements; MFT Server supports FTP, FTPS, SFTP, HTTP, HTTPS, IPv4 and IPv6, FIPS 140-2 validated cryptography.
  • With the help of FTPS and SFTP, MFT prevents snooping, tampering, leakage, and accidental exposure.

In addition to offering drag-and-drop file transfer access from the web, FTP clients and mobile interfaces, it supports ad‑hoc file sharing capabilities for sending and requesting files. Users can upload files to on Serv-U server and set a password and expiration date. They can also manually share this link via social media and other methods.

The free built-in plug-ins with Serv-U MFT include FTP Voyager JV and Web Client Pro. They enable large file transfers greater than 3 GB, multiple file transfers, side-by-side transfers, and folder synchronization capabilities. Serv-U MFT Server provides comprehensive administration options for IT teams to have complete control over FTP transfers on the network.

The Management Console is designed to provide quick and easy access to the configuration options of the file server in a familiar way. Serv-U MFT Server also allows monitoring in real time, providing statistics of FTP operations, users and sessions, and server and domain logs. You can forward these logs to SIEM systems for further analysis and compliance reporting.

In addition to the administration capabilities available in FTP Server, MFT Server supports Active Directory and LDAP authentication while providing options to manage users and groups. You can define limits and permissions for FTP operations and file sharing processes. MFT Server can execute automated actions, including emailing upon file transfer, moving files based on filename or other attributes, and writing to Windows Event Logs.

Serv-U FTP Server is designed for smaller business requirements. It is limited to 3 domains, 250 end-users, and 100 concurrent sessions. Serv-U MFT Server supports unlimited domains, end users, and concurrent sessions.

For high availability, you can have multiple MFTs inside the firewall authenticated by AD/LDAP, and you can have a load balancer to distribute connections to each MFT Server instance. This is known as N+1 horizontal scaling.

Since Serv-U MFT Server provides all the features and functionality of the Serv-U FTP Server, let's look at the installation process of installing Serv-U MFT Server as well as feature impressions.

Serv-U Gateway Server ^

There is another piece to the SolarWinds solution for ensuring there is no data "at rest" in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) network. The Serv-U Gateway Server provides additional security to the solution and allows the following benefits:

  • Ensures no data is stored in the DMZ
  • Helps meet compliance standards
  • Provides GUI installation, configuration, and management
  • Supports FIPS 140-2 validated cryptography
  • Supports active-active N+1 horizontal scaling of the Serv-U MFT Server
Serv U Gateway architecture overview

Serv U Gateway architecture overview

By using the Gateway, file transfers are more secure, and data is protected more fully during the transfer process.

Installing Serv-U MFT Server ^

The Serv-U MFT Server installation process is a "next, next, finish" process. Screenshots from this process are below. In the following walkthrough, I am executing the installer downloaded from SolarWinds for the Serv-U MFT Server trial version.

This is the language selection:

Choose a language option for the Serv U MFT installer

Choose a language option for the Serv U MFT installer

Accept the end-user license agreement (EULA) for the installation.

Accept the EULA for Serv U MFT installer

Accept the EULA for Serv U MFT installer

Select the destination location for the Serv-U MFT Server installation.

Select the destination directory for the installation of Serv U MFT Server

Select the destination directory for the installation of Serv U MFT Server

Choose a Start menu folder for the Serv U Server installation

Choose a Start menu folder for the Serv U Server installation

Choose whether you want to create a desktop shortcut as well as whether you want to install Serv-U as a system service.

Configure additional tasks for installation

Configure additional tasks for installation

The installation process is ready to begin after you have made your selections. Click Install.

Ready to begin installation of the Serv U MFT Server

Ready to begin installation of the Serv U MFT Server

After the installation finishes, it will prompt you to add a Windows Firewall exception for Serv-U MFT Server. This allows computers to be able to connect to your FTP server running via the service.

Automatically add a Windows Firewall exception for Serv U MFT Server

Automatically add a Windows Firewall exception for Serv U MFT Server

Click Finish and start the Serv-U Management Console.

Completing the Serv U MFT Server installation

Completing the Serv U MFT Server installation

You will most likely want to install a different browser for management, such as Chrome. Upon first launch, you will see the note here about IE Enhanced Security. Click OK.

Message regarding Internet Explorer Enhanced Security

Message regarding Internet Explorer Enhanced Security

Upon first launch of the management console, you will see the message about adding domains to your server. Click Yes to add your first domain.

Getting started tasks adding domains to Serv U MFT Server

Getting started tasks adding domains to Serv U MFT Server

Configure a Serv-U domain ^

Name your new domain for hosting files

Name your new domain for hosting files

Configure the domain type

Configure the domain type

Configure file sharing and SMTP options

Configure file sharing and SMTP options

Configure the SMTP server for the Serv U domain

Configure the SMTP server for the Serv U domain

Configure Serv U protocols and ports

Configure Serv U protocols and ports

Configure IP listeners

Configure IP listeners

Configure encryption

Configure encryption

Configure Serv-U domain users ^

You will need to have a user to access the Serv-U domain. When you finish the domain wizard, it will prompt you to create a new user as well.

Prompt to configure Serv U domain users

Prompt to configure Serv U domain users

Serv-U will prompt you with a wizard to create the new user.

Prompt to use the wizard to create users

Prompt to use the wizard to create users

Assign a login ID and other relevant details to the account.

Create a login ID and email address

Create a login ID and email address

Create a password.

Create a user password for logging in

Create a user password for logging in

Assign a home directory for the user. You can also lock users inside their home directories if you want them to stay within that context.

Create a user home directory

Create a user home directory

Assign the access rights for the home directory. This can be read-only or full access.

Define access rights for the home directory

Define access rights for the home directory

After configuring the user for accessing the domain in Serv-U, let's see what client access to Serv-U looks like.

Connecting to Serv-U MFT using the web client ^

Now that I have set up a test domain and a user, let's see what it looks like to connect to the MFT Server. To be able to see connection options, you need to be running the web server piece on your MFT Server. When you connect to the MFT Server via the normal HTTPS connection and login, it presents you with the Client Options dialog box. The three options include:

  • Web Client
  • FTP Voyager JV
  • File Sharing
Choose your client option for accessing Serv U

Choose your client option for accessing Serv U

Clicking the Web Client takes you to the interface. If you drop down the Jump to menu, you have the option to set up File Sharing.

Sharing files using the Web Client

Sharing files using the Web Client

Clicking the File Sharing option takes you to the Request/Send Files screen.

Requesting and sending files

Requesting and sending files

After clicking Send Files, it displays the Send Files to Guest User screen. There are really great options presented here that you would be hard pressed to get with a vanilla Windows FTP server. These include:

  • Link expiration
  • Email address filtering
  • Custom passwords
Send files to a guest user first screen

Send files to a guest user first screen

After populating the screen with the guest user email address and other information, it takes you to step 2 of the process. On this screen, you upload the file(s) to the server to share.

Select files to upload for file sharing

Select files to upload for file sharing

Completing the file upload for sharing

Completing the file upload for sharing

The file is successfully shared for the guest user to access.

Impressions and wrapping up ^

I found the SolarWinds Serv-U MFT Server to be fully featured with all the features and capabilities you would expect for a solution geared toward enterprise-level file transfers and then some. Being able to deploy either the FTP or MFT options gives businesses options when considering which solution they want. One or the other option may make sense depending on the budget and the actual use case they need to address.

Serv-U MFT Server provides great features from the standpoint of accessibility and manageability, allowing web-based access for just about everything you want to view. Accessing the solution on desktop and mobile browsers works equally well. Security is one area where the Serv-U solution excels, and this is evident with the security features included. Additionally, to bolster security with file transfers, using the Serv-U Gateway solution to move files between internal and external networks ensures there is no data at rest in the DMZ.

For businesses looking at a solution for file transfers, Serv-U provides really great features. You can license it at a level that can satisfy most business sizes and needs. Check out SolarWinds Serv-U where you can download a fully featured trial version to test it out.

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