Micro Focus, a maker of legacy modernization software, is working to help mainframe shops take their COBOL applications to the cloud.
The first implementation of Micro Focus’ cloud strategy will focus on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud, but the company is not likely to stop there. At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October, Micro Focus announced that it will enable secure, reliable and scalable enterprise COBOL applications to run on the Azure Services Platform.
As part of an enterprise modernization strategy, organizations will be able to harness cloud computing to deliver Micro Focus expertise as software plus services on the Microsoft platform. This announcement builds on the Micro Focus/Microsoft relationship, announced in July, further extending their joint technology road map, said Mark Haynie, chief technology officer of application modernization at Micro Focus.
“We’re interested in seeing COBOL as a first-class citizen on .NET and on the Azure cloud,” Haynie said. “Wherever cloud computing is going, we want COBOL to be running there.”
Indeed, Haynie said COBOL is a natural for the cloud. “COBOL was born to run in the cloud environment because it runs in large environments,” he said. “And what the cloud gives us is this elasticity to be able to grow or shrink as necessary.”
Mike Gilpin, vice president and research director at Forrester Research, said:
“One of the things that makes it [cloud computing] so attractive is that the kinds of raw OS and file-system capabilities that cloud providers are offering actually resemble pretty closely the sorts of capabilities a mainframe provides. So adding in the capabilities Micro Focus provides will actually increase the reliability and scalability of apps running in the cloud, in the same way those infrastructure elements [like CICS or IMS] provided those capabilities for mainframes that were previously only capable of doing more primitive batch processing.“
Moreover, Haynie said 70 percent of the world’s business transactions flow through COBOL-based systems, much of that traffic runs on IBM COBOL and CICS systems.
At the PDC, Micro Focus demonstrated mainframe COBOL applications running in the cloud. “We showed old-fashioned green screen mainframe terminal applications running in the cloud.”
The demo, which used a technology preview of Micro Focus software, showed how Micro Focus enables enterprises to move existing COBOL applications into the cloud either as private cloud services, available only to that particular enterprise, or as cloud applications available to the marketplace as a whole. As corporations move to a single global operating model, the immediate availability and scalability of Azure accelerates deployment of enterprise applications that support the business, and reduces the investment required, Micro Focus said.
“Current experience clearly demonstrates the value of moving to an open, agile platform with operating costs decreasing by between 50 and 90 percent for each application,” said Stuart McGill, CTO at Micro Focus, in a statement. “Cloud computing models enable further consolidation and virtualization of the single global operating model, and are expected to reduce future investment requirements by a similar factor. Companies need to start today to embrace modernization strategies from Micro Focus and Microsoft to prepare for all the benefits of the Azure Services Platform enterprise cloud computing platform.”
The demonstration at the PDC represented the first step towards a comprehensive Micro Focus cloud computing road map, McGill said.
“The Azure Services Platform helps industry partners like Micro Focus modernize applications by delivering the flexibility, choice and control enterprises require,” said Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president, Connected Systems Division at Microsoft. “We are pleased to work with Micro Focus to help developers create applications in the cloud with familiar tools, less complexity and an open platform.”
Cloud-computing will change the economics of IT expenditure, moving from an era of capital investment in unique hardware and infrastructure with its associated resource requirements and operating cost to one of commonly available utility services, Haynie said.
“We are not happy with the type of solutions available to take advantage of virtualization and -elasticization,'” Haynie said. “You have to write your applications in Python or Ruby or something else,” he said referring to Google’s App Engine — which requires Python — and other solutions for creating applications for the cloud. “We say your applications written in COBOL should be able to be put out in the cloud. We give you the advantage of the cloud without having to change. With the .NET solution you have to change to the Red Dog SDK [software development kit]. What we’re saying is no changes have to be made,” because Micro Focus makes the changes for developers in its CICS framework.
“The business logic is the same,” Haynie said.
““One thing we’ve learned from talking to a large number of developers targeting the cloud — mostly ISVs at this stage — is that they want to use familiar development tools, languages, frameworks, and infrastructure to build and run their applications. Micro Focus has a raft of technologies that enable mainframe applications to be re-hosted on commodity hardware running Windows, Linux, and other OSes, together with all the attendant application infrastructure they need – a full recreation of CICS, IMS, DB2, and other required elements. As Micro Focus moves these capabilities into the cloud, it will enable developers to re-host the back-end of their existing applications into the cloud, which will make it possible to realize a significant cost savings over running those same workloads on the mainframe.”“
Extending the Life of COBOL Applications
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.”