What does the future hold for COBOL?

There's been a great deal of debate over the future of COBOL-written legacy applications. Will mainframe legacy systems be replaced or will they integrate into a business's IT infrastructure and e-business planning?

OPINION-- There's been a great deal of debate over the future of COBOL-written legacy applications. Will mainframe legacy systems be replaced or will they integrate into a business's IT infrastructure and e-business planning?

While technologies such as Java and XML continue to dominate headlines and the emergence of new architectures like WebSphere and .NET gain momentum, the need to improve return on IT investment is forcing organisations to find better ways to develop, transform and integrate their existing mission-critical COBOL applications.

The Gartner Consulting Group has found that as much as 70 percent of the world's active business applications are written in COBOL code, growing at a rate of some five billion lines per year. In light of this and the need for programmers to maintain post-Y2K COBOL code, there remains a definite need for COBOL applications.

However, this demand is changing as legacy systems become linked to Web service applications.

Even for the most experienced IT organisations rewriting reliable, often mission-critical, applications is just not practical or commercially viable, and is time consuming. A more effective solution for businesses is to leverage legacy systems already in place by rehosting the applications to other platforms or by interfacing legacy applications with new Web services technologies.

Businesses now depend on the advent of new application development environments to facilitate business over the Internet. The future for COBOL is standardising applications so the world's business applications written in COBOL will have access to the Web. Bridging the gap between traditional COBOL development and the new world of e-business and Web-enabled applications will be critical in the years to come.

As a result, programmers who have COBOL and new programming language skills such as XML and Java are well placed to take a lead role in major enterprise software projects.

Keith Mante is the country manager at Micro Focus Australia.

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