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Cobol lives on with new tools, standards

Tech industry prognosticators have been forecasting the extinction of the mainframe for years, and yet herds of the hulking boxes still run a significant portion of the enterprise. In fact, new species are still emerging -- at least from IBM, which recently launched the z990 mainframe. Appropriately code-named T-Rex, the z990 is three times more powerful than any of IBM's other Big Iron, according to company representatives.

Beyond IBM's obvious efforts to keep the mainframe relevant, software written for mainframe environments -- especially Cobol applications -- continues to serve as mission-critical technology in a surprising number of organizations. Researchers at Aberdeen Group recently found that about 70% of the world's business data is still processed by mainframe applications written in Cobol. According to Gartner Group, that number is closer to 75%.

Veteran Cobol tool maker Micro Focus estimates that there are more than 200 billion lines of Cobol code currently running on mainframes. "Cobol is everywhere today," writes Irving Abraham, Micro Focus product manager for Unix solutions, on the company's Web site.

Headquartered in the U.K., with U.S. offices in Rockville, Md., and Sunnyvale, Calif., Micro Focus specializes in providing Cobol application analysis, development, integration and testing, and deployment environments. The company recently released a new version of its Net Express development and deployment environment. Net Express 4.0 enables users to extend their existing Cobol applications to Windows and Unix environments. The new version also features direct Cobol Web services, J2EE connectivity and XML support.

Micro Focus has also introduced Enterprise Server, a new deployment option for Net Express. According to company reps, "Enterprise Server elevates Cobol to an independent platform with its highly scalable, reliable and transactional Cobol deployment environment for two-tier client/server and three-tier composite Cobol applications developed using Net Express."

Enterprise Server incorporates support for direct Web services and a Cobol resource adapter for J2EE connections, allowing Cobol to integrate with all popular deployment technologies, said Ian Archbell, vice president of product management, Micro Focus, in a statement.

The new offerings can help organizations to use existing Cobol assets to build and deploy modern business applications that benefit from Cobol's inherent scalability, said Archbell.

In other Cobol news, the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) approved an updated version of the Cobol standard as an American National Standard.

"The new standard makes Cobol a first-class player in the object-oriented world," said INCITS chairperson Don Schricker, adding that the standard can improve interoperability, international character set handling, and data validation while enhancing Cobol's traditional strength of file handling via the addition of file sharing and record locking.

Schricker estimated replacement costs for Cobol systems at $25 per line, and noted that between 180 billion and 200 billion lines of Cobol code are still in use worldwide. Thus, widespread rewriting of Cobol apps in more "modern" programming languages would cost corporations billions of dollars.

The INCITS organization focuses on IT and communications technology standards, including storage, processing, transfer, display, management, organization and retrieval of information. INCITS is the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) Technical Advisory Group for ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1), which is responsible for the international standardization of IT.

For more information, please go to www.incits.org

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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