It’s almost impossible for most people, in their day-to-day lives, to avoid a COBOL application. There are more existing lines of programming code in COBOL than in any other programming language written till date. For decades, COBOL has been running on the heavy iron that occupies the computational core of many banking institutions — it’s a sector that is traditionally conservative and waits for the technology hype cycles to pass before extracting the tangible gains on offer. With the advent and proven advantages of virtualization, and the acceptance of cloud as a viable platform, COBOL is beginning to move from the mainframe, and heading into the cloud. It’s easier to move COBOL into the cloud, than it is to move a C/C++ application into the cloud. It’s certainly easier to move a COBOL application to the cloud, particularly from a mainframe environment than a client-server, and Microsoft-based client-server [environment]. COBOL was an effort to make a programming language that was like natural English, easy to write and easier to read the code after you’d written it. Conceptually, taking a language that can trace its heritage back into the 1950s onto a modern as-a-service platform may seem like an exercise in futility but it is a transfer that is not as mind-bending as it first sounds. COBOL’s mainframe-focused design and experience, allows for applications to focus on what it does well — transactional processing and business logic.
As the number of actors on the system grew from tens of users in the mainframe days, into the thousands during the early days of the internet, and now into the millions of users nowadays demanding instant, real-time access from a plethora of devices, the core transactional systems are coming under increasing pressure. With the move of business into the cloud, the temptation is always there to replace legacy systems with the latest and greatest languages and frameworks on offer. COBOL could have been replaced in the early transition to distributed computing or in the early days of the PC — the hardest time for the language was in the days of client-server computing. After that threat, everything seemed ok in comparison, as the industry moved onto intranet and internet-focused computing before arriving at today’s landscape where mobile and cloud appear to be the signposts for the future. As COBOL and its practitioners have soldered on, so has Father Time, and its changed the way that COBOL is developed.
Due to the different ways in which modern programmers work, Micro Focus has had to take the tooling to higher levels. Looking to the future, due to the risk-adverse nature of institutions invested in COBOL, the shift to cloud is only getting started. The key for COBOL has actually been to make it really consumable by programmers in the new environment, and as simple to learn as possible. What you tend to see is as everyone is getting bored with the cloud, actually, the real stuff is just about to get on the platform — and it forms the bedrock of the next-generation of applications!
One of the key trends that continued to act as a disruptive force in 2013 was the proliferation of BYOD in the enterprise, which has caused a significant shift in employee and corporate culture. We have seen the implications from added pressure and complexity on IT infrastructure, causing businesses to seriously re-think how they better meet the demands of an increasingly mobile and connected workforce. Trends including mobility, web and cloud continue to take a front seat as we move into 2014. More and more businesses will face challenges associated with legacy IT systems that struggle to meet the demands of end-users, driven largely by new channels being added to IT environments to enable mobile and internet capabilities. With the rise of IT consumerization and the need to work outside the company walls, technologies such as cloud computing will start to become a viable solution for managing complex IT environments. As new generation technologies, including cloud and virtualization, boast lower cost, and provide a scalable and flexible environment to operate and manage core business applications, businesses will be hard pressed to ignore its potential to alleviate the pressure on IT and deliver an improved service to their customers. This will particularly be a focus for businesses across the Financial Services, Insurance and Government industries as they strive to retain core business value in existing applications. We see customers every day struggling to preserve and protect significant established technology investments, while harnessing the benefits of new IT trends, such as mobility or cloud computing. As we head into 2014, Micro Focus will continue to innovate by providing effective strategies to bridge from ‘the old to the new’ to ensure our customers can become more productive, minimize risk and save costs. With fresh new technology being introduced so frequently, Micro Focus will remain fixed on staying ahead of the game for its customers. We have already made possible the shift of core business critical applications to the cloud, and are now looking at which platforms are going to be important for businesses in the future.
Nitin Dang, country general manager – India, Micro Focus