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Tools Cater To Leveraging Legacy Cobol Apps

It seems that Cobol applications never fade away. Mainframes still run about 60 percent to 80 percent of business applications, according to research firm Gartner, which adds up to billions of lines of Cobol code integrally tied to enterprise systems.

The problem facing corporations: It takes time and money to leverage those legacy applications for use with new, Web-based software infrastructure. Fortunately, solution providers can make use of a variety of new tools that can unlock old applications for modern platforms such as J2EE and Microsoft .Net.

Brad Murphy, senior vice president of strategic business development at Paris-based solution provider Valtech, said most clients using those tools have several ways of making their legacy applications work in Web-based environments. Some take the "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" approach, integrating Cobol applications through middleware, he said.

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Relativity's suite of tools can re-engineer Cobol apps for modern environments.

Companies taking this route have benefitted from the advent of XML, which has simplified some of the tasks associated with bringing legacy code into new environments, said Amy Wohl, president of research firm Wohl Associates. Solution providers can wrap legacy code in XML and transport it as data through EAI middleware to connect to other systems in an enterprise.

That's the most popular approach among Back Bay Technologies' clients. "I see people investing money in EAI strategies, Web services and connector architecture to just get at the code rather than port it," said Marc Maselli, president of the Boston-based solution provider. "In this [economic] climate, people don't have the tolerance for multimillion-dollar projects with no real business value."

While many companies prefer to travel this path of least resistance, others do not. Valtech's Murphy said some businesses throw out Cobol applications and start over, or re-engineer them so they can be ported to Java or to the .Net software infrastructure. Vendors such as Micro Focus International, Newbury, England, and Relativity Technologies, Raleigh, N.C., provide software to ease development for companies performing either task.

Consider Micro Focus, which began 27 years ago offering a Cobol compiler for PCs. It now provides three software products that allow customers to leverage legacy code in different ways. They are:

%95 Mainframe Express, aimed at companies that want to continue running and developing mainframe applications. which allows developers to quickly build these applications in a Windows environment;

%95 Server Express and Net Express, both of which are targeted at companies that are "fed up" with their mainframes, said Ian Archbell, Micro Focus vice president of product management. Server Express transports mainframe applications to Linux, Unix or Windows, while Net Express does the same for .Net; and

%95 Component Generator, intended for customers that may want to move only some Cobol code to J2EE or .Net. The product enables solution providers to link mainframe applications with Java- and XML-based applications.

Relativity Technologies, which originally provided software for the transformation of Cobol code into Java, also offers a suite of tools to re-engineer Cobol applications for modern environments, said Relativity President and CEO Steve Maysonave.

Relativity's Modernization Workbench comprises five software modules that can be sold either as standalones to incrementally retool applications, or as a software suite to completely migrate applications.

The workbench includes Application Analyzer, which generates HTML analysis of legacy applications; Application Architect, which re-engineers Cobol applications for

easier management; Business Rules Manager, which helps developers reuse business rules from legacy code; Transformation Assistant, which partitions legacy applications; and Application Profiler, which gives the entire development group visibility into detailed reports and other assessments of existing legacy code.

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