Processor Magazine - COBOL: Alive & Well?


(6-May-11) Just as the British Empire spread English around the world during the exploration and colonial periods, companies like IBM and Sperry Rand spread COBOL throughout the business world.  Even today, according to software developer Micro Focus, around 5 billion new lines of COBOL code get added to live systems each year. Seventy-five percent of the world’s business data (90% specifically in the financial space) are processed in COBOL. Still, the question is unavoidable: Does the COBOL dinosaur continue to rule because it still has strong teeth or only because of its massive inertia?

Why Is COBOL Popular?  “Globally, there are over 200 billion lines of COBOL in operation and the language supports over 30 billion transactions per day,” says Mark Warren, product management director at Micro Focus (www.microsoft.com). “In fact, about 70% of the world’s enterprises still depend on this so-called ‘archaic’ language to run their business. COBOL has unique strengths, including high-performance batch handling of large data and built-in support for fixed-point decimal calculations as used in financial systems.”

COBOL doesn’t only pertain to the large, relatively ancient enterprises. For proof, look no further than Winnebago Industries, the RV manufacturer. Headquartered in Iowa with 1,950 employees, Winnebago has mainframes running more than 1,700 programs. According to Senior Programmer Analyst Pat Hansen, some of these COBOL apps date back to the 1970s while new COBOL programs are still being written and deployed today. Hansen notes that while most new programs are being written in NATURAL, the programming language from Software AG, enhancements to legacy apps are mostly written in COBOL.

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