A day without COBOL

01.19.2011

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Try to imagine what you would do if ATMs stopped working, credit card transactions couldn’t be processed, online purchases weren’t recognized, retail registers refused to work causing shops to shut down. What would you do? Many of the applications crucial to our daily lives would not work without COBOL. Just the thought of non-working ATMs or credit card services could virtually shut down an entire city.

Though this seems unlikely, it could become a reality if COBOL-based systems stopped working on any given day. Those who have labelled COBOL ‘a dying language’ should reconsider their stance; I expect they haven’t been keeping up to date with all the changes that have been happening to the language over many years.

Contrary to widespread perception, applications written in COBOL are not outdated or incapable of innovation. It’s estimated that globally, there are over 200 billion lines of COBOL in operation and the language supports over 30 billion transactions per day. According to Gartner, 60-80% of the world’s enterprises still depend on COBOL to run their business. Whatever the numbers, there’s certainly a lot of it, it keeps doing a great job and it’s continually being updated to address changing business needs. With COBOL supporting the majority of the world’s businesses, it is impossible to dispute its viability and flexibility within the enterprise. COBOL has been and remains a cornerstone of business-critical applications and has successfully navigated through each computing generation.

Understanding the criticality of COBOL to our customers has been a focus of Micro Focus’ products, services and support for over 30 years – yes, we’ve always been innovating (and Visual COBOL is the latest example of that) but we’ve always put protection of existing systems and reliability of the production environment as the primary goal of every release.

An IT team fluent in COBOL will be able to efficiently deliver agile business systems that can be moved to more modern platforms, extending the lives of core business applications, or extended to address increasing customer expectations. When it comes to IT modernization in our current economic state, the costly rip & replace strategy is simply not an option. Tearing out existing core applications destroys valuable investments and brings a cost and level of risk that cannot be justified. Instead, applications should be migrated to more modern architectures such as such as cloud computing platforms.

From its inception, COBOL-based applications have certainly been capable of flexibility as one of COBOL’s strengths is its ability to integrate. In the past, that might have been integrating COBOL with Assembler on mainframes, then it was COBOL with C or C++ for Open Systems and today it’s integrating COBOL with components created for the .NET or JVM platforms or deploying them to the Cloud. Business services written in COBOL are extremely re-usable across an enterprise despite a difference in infrastructure in different departments. This level of integration speaks volumes to COBOL’s longevity, as it has been adapted to changing platforms for decades.

COBOL is an undeniable asset and will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role in application processes for many years ahead. The importance of any application lies in its ability to deliver business value and as COBOL has been responsible for fifty years of business growth and innovation, we need to ensure that these assets are understood, protected and maximized.

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