Extending the Life of COBOL Applications

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2008-11-14 Print this article Print


In July, Micro Focus pledged to further extend its Windows-based technology portfolio, including its Net Express, SOA Express and Enterprise Server products, to provide customers with managed-code, 64-bit solutions that will take advantage of the full power of the Microsoft .NET Framework, SQL Server, Team Foundation Server, BizTalk Server and System Center Operations Manager.

"By working with Micro Focus we are improving the value attained by mainframe customers choosing to go with the Windows platform for their modernization strategy, and improving the ROI helping them reduce the costs of their deployment efforts," said Bill Hilf, general manager for Windows Server marketing at Microsoft.

Haynie said the July announcement was partly about "making SQL Server from Microsoft look more like DB2 so as not having to require changes in the customer code. That will help in the Azure cloud, because applications can come right off the mainframe and run in the Azure cloud. Business applications that think they are talking to DB2 are now talking to cloud-based services."

Meanwhile, "What's cool about this approach to moving apps into the cloud is that it won't require developers familiar with COBOL (or PL/I) and with those mainframe environments to learn any new tools or development approaches," Gilpin said. "I don't think that means that we'll see a renaissance for COBOL because of this cloud support, but it will extend the life of COBOL applications that already exist, because of the improved economics."

Haynie said that as Micro Focus finalizes its technology and "when it comes time to price it, you can expect subscription-based or software licensing-based pricing like Azure or Amazon. And that's of interest to our customers. They are asking how they can get pay-as-you-go pricing rather than having to buy new licenses and servers. That's the most important piece of the cloud phenomenon -- to be able to run in the cloud without buying additional MIPS from IBM and to be able to grow and shrink as needed."

That begs the question of whether a move to the cloud for COBOL and other mainframe systems could eventually mean a slowdown in growth of mainframe sales for IBM. The company has touted the continued growth of its mainframe business for several consecutive quarters.

"Eventually, yes, I think it could slow mainframe growth," Gilpin said of moving COBOL applications to the cloud. "But I think the effects would probably kick in so gradually over such a long period of time that they would be masked by other changes in the marketplace. Also, IBM has been pretty innovative in the past about finding ways to lower costs to their customers when they were forced to do so by competitive circumstances, which is why so many past predictions of the death of the mainframe have proven premature."

In addition, IBM has and is beefing up its own cloud computing environment. So any risk to its mainframe business would likely be more than offset by IBM's own cloud offerings.

However, "The main potential risk to an enterprise of such modernization is whether they can continue to access COBOL skills in the marketplace to support those applications into the future," Gilpin said. "Although there aren't as many COBOL developers as there once were, we've seen enough success in COBOL training for new college graduates who learned programming in Java or some other more recent language, that we're not too concerned about this issue. If the market for these developers is there, the supply will continue one way or another." 

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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