How to Move Cheaply Out of COBOL

From: Ubiquitous (weberm...)

By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
Federal News Radio

Many federal agencies are using machines that are running software developed
25 to 35 years ago, and they're still going strong.

These machines are using the COmmon Business-Oriented Language (COBOL) to get
things done.

Invented in 1959 by Naval officer Grace Hopper, COBOL is still a prevalent
force throughout the federal government.

There are still about 200 billion lines of the code in live operation, and 75
percent of business-critical applications and 90 percent of financial
transactions use it.

It's a very secure, easy-to-learn language, but it's running into some
problems now that the Obama administration has issued modernization
initiatives such as the Open Government Directive.

Joe Moyer is regional director of Micro Focus, a company that's helping
federal agencies move their platforms from COBOL to newer ones.

"It is a very secure and solid and very good language for transactional
business. It's really running the critical mission applications in our our
government today. So, when these applications have been around for so long,
how do you make changes? How does the government address this issue?" Moyer
explained.

COBOL does its job, but it is old, and the Obama administration is running
into problems. Since one of its goals is to modernize government while
lowering costs, COBOL is becoming a bit of a sticking point.

"These applications are very, very expensive to run on older mainframes,
whether that's an IBM or Unisys platform. There's really just a few ways
government will address this issue -- do you rewrite these applications into
Java, which could take years and years? Do you replace them and go to a COTS
package -- and that's a little difficult when an application could have 30
million lines of COBOL code going to an ERP? Or, do you do nothing and keep
paying the expensive cost to maintain these applications?"

Moyer says his company provides a solution that could enable the government to
reuse what it has with a software appliance that moves applications from COBOL
to one like Windows or Unix.

And then there's also the Open Government Directive.

A lot of agency information is being held hostage, so to speak, by COBOL.
Moyer explained that the IRS, SSA and even parts of DHS and DoD still use
COBOL in a closed environment.

"Can you really go to an SOA environment or to cloud computing from the
mainframe? . . . We can actually take a COBOL application and move it to [an]
open environment. . . . [COBOL] works. It's a fantastic language. It's written
in English. It's very easy to develop, and that's why many agencies have not
moved off it yet. So, with the Obama administration's modernization
initiatives, why not save millions and millions of dollars while keeping that
secure language behind the scenes."

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