COBOL: Standing the test of time part three

The hi-tech world of IT embraces and celebrates ‘new’ more than any other industry. New, creative innovations enjoy a meteoric rise in popularity and interest – seemingly overnight – for the potential benefits they can deliver to early adopters. What do Smart phones, Tablet computers, iPods, social media, and wireless networking have in common? They were all innovations of the last decade, and already we can’t imagine life without some of them.

In a market crowded with new entrants each year, existing and established technologies have to fight to remain current, relevant and valuable. So how has COBOL, a fifty-year-old language, managed to remain a forerunner in the world of enterprise application development?

The answer lies in its adaptability. It evolved, and continues to evolve, according to the needs of the day by welcoming new phrases, new meanings, even letters, and by slowly retiring anything no longer used.

Consider the growing use of SOA and Web Services, and the range of technology elements – such as XML, WSDL, SOAP and others – the framework needs for things to talk together. Micro Focus was quick to market with tooling to allow the rapid creation of Web Service or SOA versions of existing COBOL applications.

These technologies have been introduced over the last thirty years or so:

And these platforms and environments have come into being during the same period:

These platforms and technologies share a common thread – the investment that Micro Focus has made to ensure these new environments are accessible from the COBOL world in a meaningful, practical sense. In most cases, Micro Focus was first to market with product technology that supported the new ‘standard’ and enabled deployment to new environments.

COBOL continues to evolve to take advantage of emerging technology: In 1974, 1985 and 2002 the COBOL language standard was updated. Micro Focus played its part both by participating in the standards body, and also being one of the pioneers of the new standard from a compliance perspective. This is illustrated by the ‘industry firsts’ to come from the Micro Focus stable.

We now see COBOL applications written decades ago being deployed to cloud, .NET and JVM. Micro Focus’ commitment to its customers is most emphatically provided through its backwards compatibility policy: That any COBOL, anywhere, that conforms to the standard(s) will compile with the latest product. This guaranteed forward path serves to keep applications current and provides a low-risk environment for systems development. This contrasts starkly to other technology options where the code was good for a couple of years but had to be rewritten because a compiler release had changed.

The outcome is that COBOL can be easily used as part of a leading-edge technology strategy, and part of contemporary deployment architecture, using SOA, websites, Application Servers etc. One healthcare provider took its applications, built using COBOL development technology licensed in 1984, and re-used the business logic more or less unchanged as part of a program to provide web-based access to those business applications via SOA. The underlying COBOL code remained unchanged as the work invested in COBOL by Micro Focus over the years ensured that the leap to SOA could be achieved without changing the core code.

The future brings undefined generations of technology innovation into view, renewing the requirement for investment, innovation and certification by Micro Focus on behalf of its customers. From the advances in deployment options, including cloud and mobile devices, to supporting mainframe CICS application running natively in Azure, as well as moving to Windows 8, Micro Focus will continue to invest proactively to ensure customers’ future strategic decisions allow their existing investments to remain secure and protected.

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1 Comment

  • A very good description of the way COBOL has evolved whereas earlier languages, such as Assmbler, have finally withered and died (in terms of application development). There are currently plenty of COBOL developers supporting these applications, however, how many organisations have a strategy in place to continue this in 5, 10, 20 years time? In other words, where are the COBOL programmers of the future going to come from when everyone seems to want to move into, for example, Java?

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