Cobol lives on via BluePhoenix, Cook Systems

The Common Business Oriented Language, or Cobol as its better known, lives on and on in the legacy world. And thanks to some fancy new technology from BluePhoenix Solutions -- a company whose corporate history can be traced back to Seer Technologies, which emerged from IBM's ill-fated AD/Cycle effort to automate application development -- and Cook Systems International -- an IT outsourcer and consultant -- the venerable programming language looks to be getting yet another lease on life. But officials stress that the aim of the effort is more than simply an attempt to keep ailing Cobol code up and running.

According to officials from both firms, the process they call Cobol Regeneration can yield applications that are more reusable, easier to maintain and more responsive to accommodating new business processes. Ed Gentry, BluePhoenix vice president for product management, said Cook's Cobol Regeneration solution leverages BluePhoenix technology to create a technology-based process that can migrate Cobol applications to a more modernized environment. He noted the product grew out of a RAD technology BluePhoenix had acquired, legacy modernization technologies, and the system and application knowledge provided by Cook.

Gentry said the product does more than simply parse old Cobol -- it derives business rules from existing code through a process that is largely, but not entirely, automated, making it possible to either rebuild the Cobol that is there or to create a functional specification that can produce an equivalent system in a more modern technology such as Java.

''It isn't just people saying 'I don't want Cobol any more,' but also people looking to achieve more business flexibility and maintainability,'' said Gentry.

William Ulrich, author of Legacy Systems Transformation Strategies and president of Tactical Strategy Group, said the billions of lines of Cobol code in the world still represent critical functionality, but people have often lost sight of what they do and how they work and interrelate.

If you try to take Cobol and turn it into Java without preparation, you are simply trying to replicate a procedural language in a much different medium, warns Ulrich. ''That's something no one wants to work with,'' he said. By contrast, the BluePhoenix approach can rebundle the functions to take advantage of the characteristics of Java or simply spruce up what's there. ''It is a more valid way of doing this,'' he added.

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