COBOL: The original language for business – and a continued chart success!

This month’s TIOBE.COM index ranks COBOL – the pioneering and continually pacesetting programming language – at number 20 in terms of global computing language activity. But why is a 50-year-old language climbing the charts? Derek Britton investigates.

It’s official: COBOL is a new chart success. The new ratings prove it. The TIOBE index shows COBOL up 6 places year to year number 20 in the charts in December 2015. The TIOBE Programming Community index is an indicator of the popularity of programming languages. It bases these ratings on a number of key criteria, including the number of skilled software engineers using each language world-wide. It uses all the popular search engines to calculate the ratings with a newly improved algorithm.

We have mentioned before – as far back as 2012 and as recently as February of this year – that COBOL’s durability, prevalence and reliability are finally being reflected in the right places. This graph indicates just how well COBOL has done in the last few years. This represents a continued growth in the popularity of COBOL, having climbed from a steady decline towards obscurity a few years back to cementing a place in the top 20.

But this is a language conceived in 1959. It has a reputation in some quarters as being a little outdated. So how is this possible revival possible? TIOBE itself cites the growing popularity of Visual Studio 2015– Microsoft’s development framework and IDE – as a prime mover. But what else might be affecting this continued improvement?

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Visual Studio – the ratings booster

First things first, let’s look at what TIOBE said. Perhaps an adjustment in ratings, based on an increase in Visual Studio activity, may be in order. It has certainly boosted the fortunes of other Visual Studio and .NET-friendly languages that seen improved chart placings this month, including Visual Basic .NET and C#.

As an equal citizen in the .NET framework and a major player in the field of managed code, this would improve ratings for COBOL, as would an uptick in Eclipse usage – COBOL equally supports this IDE as well as the JVM managed code environment. COBOL’s portability across all major platforms ensures it will benefit from a surge in popularity of any such environment.

A new blue

Of course, managed code environments aren’t the whole story. The overwhelming majority of COBOL systems are mainframe-based, particularly the IBM mainframe – another unfairly maligned and reliable piece of tech. The continued relevance of Big Iron is no surprise to the Micro Focus team and we’ve long been singing the praises of big blue, not least the new z13 environment. Our attendance at SHARE and continued partnership with IBM means are enabling organizations to continue to extract value from the mainframe and their COBOL applications to support innovative IT projects.

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Skills – the new challenge?

Core systems based on COBOL have – in many cases – over-delivered and outlived any original prediction of their proposed value. Unsurprisingly, IT leaders need to examine resource plans to support those systems in the future. However, much of the current narrative is around ‘skills gaps’ and looming crises. Assessing IT skills and determining strategy based on available talent could easily be the result of pragmatic IT leaders recognising that COBOL’s reliability makes it worth planning around, rather than dispensing with. This would explain why COBOL continues to improve climb the charts, and echoes our view, shared recently with IBM Systems Magazine, that the skills question is a relatively straightforward future activity for IT leadership.

Interestingly, despite our explanation, much of the press remains ostensibly negative towards skills issues. However, many clients, academic partners and vendors are helping to support our academic program, which represents very smart thinking and a new way to support the next batch of COBOL developers with modern tools. So perhaps Micro Focus’s answer to these skills questions is another factor here. (Check back soon for more observations on COBOL skills).

Go to work with COBOL

And a related issue is quite a simple one – jobs. If demand for staff continues, the jobs are out there. If the supply wanes, more organizations and more recruiters need to be more visible to get the remaining talent. It certainly represents a win-win for COBOL developers who find their skills in such demand. On the flipside, would-be joiners must differentiate themselves.

COBOL saw the highest growth in available jobs in one survey, and is often cited as a differentiating skill in landing a well-paid job. A buoyant COBOL jobs market with renewed interest from applications could easily have helped tip the scales.

So, we can conclude that many contributory factors could all be supporting the ongoing popularity of COBOL. And Micro Focus are confident that we’re backing a winner – our ongoing R&D investments will help to ensure key attributes such as portability, future-proofing and innovation help ensure COBOL can support the business needs of 2016 and beyond.

What’s your view?

Of course, these are just a personal view. And, after five decades, who can say why COBOL is soaring up the TIOBE charts right now? Why not share a comment here or tweet to @microfocus on why #COBOLrocks? Better still, find out for yourselves at an upcoming #DevDay event near you.

The Force Awakens – the web performance testing farce continues

In a Galaxy far too close to home, Frank Borland has donned his Alec Guinness Jedi cape and fired up the Millennium Falcon of Best Web Performance Practice. People are just not learning their lessons and Frank ain’t happy.

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I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

Now, it takes a lot to get Frank excited; maybe a new Creedence album, a BOGOF on red neckerchiefs at JC Penny – something pretty damn huge, anyway. But, any developer who has ever worn the uniform – insert ponytail/sandals/generic Sci-Fi movie T-shirt gag here – knows that a pretty darn special film is out this week. It’s been years in the making and has been promoted to a Galaxy far far away and back.

That’s right, folks. Because just as the Ridiculous 6 simultaneously hits the streets and the bargain bins, the season’s blockbuster, Alvin and the Chipmunks – the Road Chip gets ready to do its thing. Just kidding you – Frank knows full well that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is due, to, er, awaken. With force.

While the news has even reached Frank’s Testing Nerve Centre in my secret West Coast location, the news still caught UK cinemas with their metaphorical pants down when they tried and failed to sell advance tickets. That’s right, guys and gals – the very organisations who planned to make oodles of boodle from these screenings didn’t properly prepare for them. It’s like General Motors being caught out by the invention of roads. Not too likely, huh?

Looking through my well-thumbed copy of Talking Star Wars for Dummies – no dev should be without one – Frank’s eye spots a good quote. “Every so often there’s a great disturbance in The Force as thousands of voices cry out”. This time round it’s legions of dudes – let’s be honest, most of them are dudes – yelling at their laptops as the website they were using to not buy tickets for the Force Awakens crashed like Biggs Darklighter’s X-Wing in the final Death Star trench run.

But these organisations weren’t tipped into the edge into oblivion by a sneaky Sith Lord Vader TIE fighter attack. No sirree. These online commerce teams knew the onslaught was coming. And they did squat about it.

“Test. Or Test not. There is no try.”

The link between well-publicised events and website crashes is nothing new, right? Major eCommerce sites know you’re coming to visit – dammit, they spend thousands of bucks on ads that drive you to the site. But again and again and again inadequate performance testing casts them into a Sarlacc pit of doom.

Hit Google. Check out all the negative headlines. Read your Twitter feed – see all the bad vibes heading towards these companies. That reputation is going to take more rebuilding that the Death Star – and it’s just as difficult. Think of all the potential bounty that took-off faster than Boba Fett did when his back-pack took a lucky shot from Han’s trusty blaster. And it ain’t coming back.

Apparently some folks still think it is better to risk losing millions than drop a few bucks on world class performance testing software and a QA regime. Their customers disagree.

What a wonderful smell you’ve discovered

The Battle of Hoth begins on Social Media when the ordure of corporate misjudgement hits the fan of public opinion. The brave Rebel Alliance forces manning the Twitter and Facebook outposts are left to fight an unnecessary battle against impossible odds. A brave few will win a skirmish or two in full knowledge that it’s all slipping out of their control. People – it doesn’t have to be this way.

Somebody has to save our skins

That’s where Silk WebMeter, Silk Performer and our world class performance testing products come in folks. If you’re a developer, you won’t need me to remind you Obi-Wan’s wise words, “in my experience there’s no such thing as luck”. And who am I to argue with the Big Guy? So prepare your site for the next epic struggle against the hordes – or ‘customers’, as I call ‘em. Hit our Trials page, fire up your trusty, non-clumsy or random performance testing weapon of choice and May the Force Be With You!

Frank out.

Frank Profile

In Sync: new survey re-assesses mainframe popularity

To succeed in a market, an organization must understand it. Micro Focus is no different. A recent Syncsort mainframe market survey made interesting reading for Derek Britton.

Introduction

It’s always good to get a new market perspective. Partners, vendors and analysts all see the same entity from different angles and Micro Focus believes that clarity lies in commissioning a professional view. Within the last two years, for example, we have asked Vanson Bourne to take look at the mainframe user experience and report on the broader, general mainframe market.

Now, technology vendors Syncsort have completed their own mainframe market study and followed BMC in publishing their survey findings. It’s required reading for anyone in the mainframe market. While the Syncsort survey, Mainframe’s Role in the Big Data Ecosystem, detours slightly by looking at Big Data, it still keeps mainframe popularity and usage on the radar.

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Empowered

Anyone seeking clarity about the continued importance of the mainframe to big business will head straight to the survey’s key questions and answers. They will, for example, be interested to know that 69% of respondents voted the mainframe as ‘very important‘ for large-scale transaction processing while 70% ranked it even more highly for hosting mission-critical applications.

This echoes our view – and that of the BMC survey – that the mainframe remains the enterprise server of choice for the business-critical systems of large organizations.  But is it fit for the future?

Integrated

Well, if a technology’s adaptability in working with more contemporary IT is a good indicator, then the answers made good reading. When assessing the mainframe’s ability to integrate with other standalone computing platforms such as Linux, UNIX or Windows, more than two-thirds – 67.4% – thought this was “important” or “very important”.

This will not surprise seasoned market analysts and those of us who regard understanding the market as part of our job descriptions. This is a connected digital world and IBM would not have invested so heavily in putting the z13 mainframe at the centre of the fully integrated hub of digital operations unless they thought this represented a safe, long-term bet.

Indeed, IBM’s recent LinuxONE announcement – the unveiling of a portfolio of hardware, software and services solutions to support an enterprise-grade Linux environment – is further evidence that Big Blue is among other notable observers in believing that the mainframe infrastructure can support growing market demand across a range of environments well into the future.

Evolving

The winning trick for any analyst, either professional or casual, is to accurately predict the future. For example, the digitally-empowered world of 2015 would have been impossible to imagine only a decade ago. So will the mainframe remain relevant in 2025? Clearly, that point concerned Syncsort enough to pose the question “how long is your company planning to continue using a mainframe?” The response indicated – as Micro Focus has long predicted – a very, very distant horizon: 57.8% had “no plans to discontinue”, while those seeking to retire the mainframe within two years was less than a rounding error at 0.1%. This is consistent with overwhelming data from BMC, IBM, Micro Focus and others, where mainframe loyalty and future usage seems undiminished. The evidence for the defence makes for a strong case.

Enterprising

The survey went on to look at the broader question of mainframe application delivery. More than half of the respondents classified their status as “continuing to build new applications for the mainframe” or adding the qualifier that “but most are being placed on other platforms”.

What does this mean? Well, from my perspective, this represents a continued reliance on big iron systems, but with an emerging trend towards a more heterogeneous platform mix living alongside the mainframe. The immovable truth – and the key takeaway – is that additional mainframe workload is being developed by a significant proportion of clients.

So far, so good – but having removed the ‘if’ from the equation, the survey addresses the vexed issue of building these core systems.  Whether it concerns mainframe DevOps adoption or improving time to value in other ways, with different options available to facilitate the build the challenge moves on to establishing the best way of “continuing to build applications”.

Skilful

Successfully managing the mainframe environment is not easy. It requires that the investment in technology is matched by the supply of skilled mainframers; in other words, resolving the widely-perceived skills crisis. The skills question was provocatively phrased, “describe your mainframe staffing needs” and the response was illuminating, with 38.5% “Anticipating a requirement for new mainframe staff in the near future”.

This was the highest single score. It was a higher percentage than those who were confident they could meet this need or without a requirement at all. Skills shortfall, issue or challenge, the IT skills question remains an open topic on the CIO agenda, albeit with – Micro Focus believes – a relatively straightforward resolution. Join us for a live skills discussion soon.

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And to summarise …

Syncsort’s findings can be divided into two fundamental truths. Firstly, that the value of the mainframe environment is not in question. The second point – and a good reason for making sure the survey lands in the CIOs in tray – is that the challenges facing those tasked with continuing to deliver greater and greater business value, are real and need resolution if the key findings are to be reconciled.

But each challenge can be faced and maximum value achieved. This way, this technology will have not just a future of supporting core systems, but it can evolve to provide the innovation that every mainframe organisation needs to extract maximum value from their biggest business asset.

Cyber Fun Days!

How can online retailers ensure virtual shopping carts will continue to be filled now that Black Friday has kicked off the seasonal shopping season? New writer Lenore Adam talks about ways to prevent website bottlenecks and guarantee a positive and consistent user experience.

As my colleague Derek Britton recently noted in his blog, Cyber Sunday is the latest extension of the traditional Thanksgiving retail feeding frenzy (pardon the pun, I struggle with any reminder of having eaten too much this past week…). U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart, along with several other major retailers, pulled their Cyber Monday promotions into Sunday in a bid to capture increased online demand.

For consumers, it is less of a trend and more of a way of life. Ubiquitous use of smart phones with fast internet has helped blur the lines between what were traditionally distinct retail and online shopping days. Economists estimate that digital shopping will rise by ‘11.7 percent this year, lifting the overall proportion of online sales to 14.7 percent of total retail activity, or $1 out of every $7’ that consumers spend this season. Despite these indicators, major retailers were caught unprepared for the volume of online shopping this year, promoting products that consumers were unable to order due to website overload.

Ensure a Positive User Experience

Even after the holiday rush, online retailers are still vulnerable to unpredictable demand. Will another polar vortex increase climate commerce and drive an unexpected wave of consumers to your site? Will those newly implemented e-commerce delivery options stress back-end systems and reduce peak performance? Are you ready for this season’s variety & volume of access devices, browsers, and geographically dispersed access points? Online retail success demands a positive user experience for a customer base accustomed to web page response times ticked off in milliseconds.

The mantra for brick and mortar retailers is often location, location, location. With online retailers it’s more like test, test, test. This is where Silk Performer and Cloudburst come in. Borland products help prevent our customers – who include some of the biggest names in online retailing – from becoming another online casualty. Archie Roboostoff, Director of Product Management, explains how Silk is used not only for website performance testing, but also for testing responsive web design. For example, use Silk to test…

‘…across different configurations of browsers to outline where things can be tuned…For example, Silk can determine that your application runs 15% slower on Firefox than Chrome on Android. Adjusting the stylesheets or javascript may be all that is required to performance tune your application. Testing for responsive web design is crucial to keeping user experience sentiments high…’

When ‘a 100 millisecond delay… equates to a 1% drop in revenue’, online performance clearly is business critical. With the competition just a click away, don’t lose customers due to poor site performance. Keep them on your site, happily filling up their shopping carts. Try Silk Performer here.

Lenore

After the Goldrush

How can online retailers keep the tills keep ringing now Thanksgiving is over? Chris Livesey talks about easy ways to prevent website wobbles.

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As my colleague Derek Britton recently noted in his blog, Cyber Sunday is the latest extension of the traditional – at least in contemporary terms – Thanksgiving retail feeding frenzy. Wal-Mart has decided to further test their website’s resilience to heavy digital footfall by a further 24 hours.

Similarly, the UK-based technology store Carphone Warehouse brought forward their Black Friday event by 24 hours and joined Amazon and Argos in offering deals that run from November 23 until December 2 inclusive.

Whether it is out of consideration for the consumer or just another dead-eyed strategy to squeeze more pre-Christmas cash out of consumers, the line between the end of one sales event and the commencement of another is increasingly blurred. And it is less of a trend and more of a way of life. UK shoppers spent more than £718.7m online every week throughout 2014, an 11.8% increase on the previous year.

The Reiss Effect

So what happens after the seasonal rush? Everything goes back to normal, right? Well, maybe not. Online retailers are still vulnerable to The Reiss Effect. This happens when a company isn’t prepared for, well, the unexpected and loses out as a result.

In this case, Kate Middleton being pictured wearing a Reiss dress had unforeseen – and unfortunate – consequences for the manufacturer. The website crashed. Reiss were unable to take advantage of their good fortune. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity passed them by. Unable to process orders from new or established customers, they lost revenue and became a ‘thing’.

Websites are the virtual shopfronts for retailers and manufacturers and, just like shops, can quickly become overwhelmed if not battle-ready. Unexpected opportunities can quickly become unwanted headaches. The same Social Media platforms that plug your product can quickly damage your brand.

We are not bemused

Underestimating the potential popularity of your offering can be just as damaging is just another form of unpreparedness. The website for Dismaland, the pop-up art project set up by British graffiti artist Banksy recently crashed, leaving thousands of would-be visitors unable to purchase tickets. But as the creative theme of this ‘bemusement park’ attraction was disappointment, this may well have been the intention.

So the key to online retail success for Black Friday, Cyber Sunday, ‘Gratuitous Spending Wednesday’ and beyond is to road-test your website for any eventuality. It’s easier than you think. As the CMO for Micro Focus Borland I am proud that we help prevent our customers – who include some of the biggest names in online retailing – becoming another ‘thing’.

It’s easy with Silk Performer and Cloudburst. This is stress-free, stress testing for websites and applications. With it, users have Cloud-based scalability and access to unlimited virtual users as they like. Without it, they may not detect the errors that can turn go-live into dead-in-the-water day. Try it here.

But even the best tool can’t prepare an organization for everything. Sorry, US Airlines, but if a opossum is going to chew through the power cable, you’re on your own.

Chris