The COBOL programming language first appeared in 1959. The subcommittee for developing its specifications included employees from IBM, RCA and Sylvania Electric Products; of those three, RCA went out of business while the Sylvania brand was sold to a variety of owners. But IBM is still standing, and it still has an interest in COBOL’s future, with the release of new software designed to extend COBOL applications running on System z mainframes to cloud and Web environments.
“COBOL powers many of the critical systems people rely on everyday,” Kevin Stoodley, Rational chief technology officer and IBM Fellow, wrote in a May 17 statement. “With this new software, IBM is helping companies reduce operating costs and processing time associated with these applications while delivering new capabilities to take advantage of cloud, Web and mobile devices.”
COBOL may seem like an antiquated software language, but IBM claims that some 200 billion lines of it are still used by a variety of industries, including banking and human resources. IBM isn’t the only company working with the language; other software vendors have issued platforms over the past few years that allow COBOL data to be analyzed alongside other sources.
IBM’s new software includes a z/OS XML parser, which (in the words of the company’s press release) allows “parsing workload to be off-loaded to specialty engines to reduce operating costs.” It also features support for Java 7 and UTF-8 built-ins, which could greatly assist in porting COBOL applications to the Web. There’s also a new-and-improved level of z/OS System Management Facilities (SMF) tracking, “which allows users who implement sub-capacity tracking to reduce their administrative overhead.”
The software supports the most recent versions of IBM Customer Information Control System (CICS), Information Management System (IMS), and DB2 software.
COBOL creates some conundrums for those companies that continue to rely on it for everyday functions. Like any bit of aging software, COBOL’s interoperability and use-cases have declined with each passing decade. Software such as this new release from IBM can help extend its lifespan by forcing it to cooperate with other, newer languages; but at a certain point, companies will need to consider when and how they’ll take all that functionality contained in their COBOL distribution and port it to a new platform.