Cobol meets Web services

Cobol isn't the first language that comes to mind when thinking about XML and Web services applications. In the J2EE and .NET worlds, it might not even be the third or fourth language that comes to mind.

But there is a place for the old mainframe language in the new Web services world, insists Ian Archbell, vice president of product marketing at Micro Focus International Ltd. (, one of the last remaining makers of Cobol development tools.

"I think we can say that Micro Focus is on the cutting edge of Cobol," said Archbell of his privately held company, which was spun off from former owner Merant in 2001. "That might sound like a contradiction in terms, but in point of fact, Micro Focus Cobol is cutting edge in terms of technology."

To underscore the point, Micro Focus this month released Net Express 4.0, a set of tools and a deployment platform for extending Cobol applications into the new world. "Net Express is designed to take Cobol applications and interoperate with new applications using XML technology for Web services," Archbell explained.

While admitting that five years ago, systems integrators were telling clients to "rip out and replace" Cobol with Java, he insists times have changed and that the change favors letting legacy live.

As Archbell told XML Report: "In today's world where IT budgets have been cut back from almost 10% of revenue to on average down to 3.5%, it's not practical to say 'Let's rewrite 20 million lines of Cobol code and do it in Java.' There's no incremental business value to doing that."

With 70,000 users at 7,000 sites, including such household names in financial services as J.P. Morgan, Micro Focus -- with dual headquarters in the U.K. and Sunnyvale, Calif. -- is betting on the future of Cobol, said Archbell. To prove its point, the Micro Focus R&D budget has been boosted to 20% of the firm's revenue, far higher than most publicly held firms, he noted.

"We like to think of ourselves as the future of Cobol," he said. "The future of Cobol isn't just about Cobol it's about how we can utilize the existing assets and business rules in Cobol applications in the new world of technology like J2EE and .NET."

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.


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