A Day Without COBOL: The Crucial Role it Plays

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bill Gerneglia


Article by by Ed Airey

Imagine if ATMs stopped working, credit card transactions couldn’t be processed, online purchases weren’t recognized and retail registers shut down. What would you do?

Though this seems unlikely, it could become a reality if COBOL-based systems stopped working on any given day. Those who have labeled COBOL ‘a dying language’ should reconsider their stance as many updates have been implemented to the language over the years.

Contrary to widespread perception, applications written in COBOL are not outdated or incapable of innovation. It’s estimated that, globally, there are over 200 billion lines of COBOL in operation and the language supports over 30 billion transactions per day. According to Gartner, 60-80% of the world’s enterprises still depend on COBOL to run their business.

Whatever the numbers, there’s certainly a lot of code that continues to run essential applications and is being consistently maintained to address changing business needs.

With COBOL supporting the majority of the world’s businesses, it is impossible to dispute its viability and flexibility within the enterprise. It has been and remains to be a cornerstone of business-critical applications and has successfully navigated through each computing generation. 

An IT team fluent in COBOL is able to efficiently deliver agile business systems that can be moved to more modern platforms, extend the lives of core business applications and address increasing customer expectations. When it comes to IT modernization in our current economic state, the costly rip and replace strategy is simply not an option.

Tearing out existing core applications destroys valuable investments and brings a cost and level of risk that cannot be justified. Instead, applications should be migrated to more modern architectures such as such as cloud computing platforms.

From its inception, COBOL-based applications have certainly been capable of flexibility and integration. In the past, it was based on integrating COBOL with Assembler on mainframes; then, it was COBOL with C or C++ for Open Systems; and today, it’s integrating COBOL with components created for the .NET or JVM platforms or deploying them to the cloud.

Business services written in COBOL are extremely re-usable across an enterprise despite a difference in infrastructure across departments. This level of integration speaks volumes to COBOL’s longevity, as it has been adapted to changing platforms for decades.

COBOL is an undeniable asset and will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role in application processes for many years ahead.

The importance of any application lies in its ability to deliver business value, a benefit that COBOL has helped achieve for over fifty years. In order to keep COBOL alive, we need to ensure that these assets are understood, protected and maximized.

Cross-posted from CIOZone

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