Cobol, The Enemy

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We have met the enemy and its name is Cobol.

According to research firm Gartner, 60 percent to 80 percent of IT budgets are used to maintain mainframes and related applications. The problem is not whether mainframes are an appropriate platform to run these applications. In fact, IBM notes that there are roughly 30 billion Cobol transactions processed each day. The issue is the expense associated with running these systems.

IBM admits that at least $1.5 trillion has been spent by enterprises to create Cobol/CICS applications, and the expense associated with maintaining those applications is increasing rather than decreasing.

MICHAEL VIZARD Can be reached at (516) 562-7477 or via e-mail at

To get out from under this albatross, IT organizations have been investing in packaged applications from SAP, PeopleSoft and Oracle for years. But most of these applications are isolated from other applications because they are all wrapped up in proprietary APIs that lock the customer into the application vendor. As a result, IT organizations find themselves trying to connect legacy Cobol systems to packaged applications using expensive EAI solutions that usually come attached to an army of consultants.

The good news is that standards are opening those proprietary locks. Web services technologies are being used to create new EAI tools based on what is being described as an enterprise service bus (ESB). Any application that plugs into the ESB can be integrated with any other application linked to the ESB. This is a significant improvement over the point-to-point integration model that has dominated EAI. Right now, a slew of vendors are building ESB-related products, including IBM, Microsoft, webMethods, Tibco, BEA, Vitria, SeeBeyond, Sonic, Iona, Oracle, Fiorano, Fuego, Iway and Sun.

While this mitigates costs, it doesn't eliminate them. Sometimes the best approach is to rewrite the Cobol application so it can run on less costly platforms using tools from companies such as Relativity Technologies, IBM and MicroFocus.

These tools have been around for a while, but their quality and sophistication have improved significantly. More important, for the first time in memory CIOs are under enough economic pressure where they, too, finally see Cobol as the enemy.

Is rewriting apps on the upswing? I can be reached at (516) 562-7477 or via e-mail at

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