Cobol preps for a much-needed celebrity makeover with tools from Acucorp and Micro Focus
Solutions help move cumbersome yet mission-critical Cobol from the mainframe to modern platforms
Cobol has certainly taken hits to its integrity over the four-plus decades it’s been in service. It’s now widely renowned as cumbersome and inflexible to today’s IT requirements. Despite such an unflattering description, the vast majority of today’s high-profile enterprise business logic actually resides in mainframe Cobol applications.
Companies do not need to dispose of Cobol. They do need an easy way to expose those resources and get them to interoperate with today’s distributed computing models, without suffering the high cost of a full-blown EAI solution.
Fortunately, that’s precisely the challenge new products such as Net Express 4.0 with .Net from Micro Focus, and the Extend 6.1 suite from Acucorp are finally starting to address.
Both vendors, backed by impressive track records, are delivering non-invasive solutions to migrate application code off the mainframe for rehosting on less costly hardware and OS configurations. In addition, the included tools handily map interfaces to XML and .Net Web services, J2EE, and Enterprise JavaBeans, as well as Windows COM components.
These offerings have much in common, including Cobol compilers, IDEs for developing, testing, and deploying applications, as well as solid utilities for bridging legacy files and datasets. But they differ in their respective approaches.
Micro Focus includes integration with Microsoft Visual Studio .Net, giving it the capacity to create and extend Cobol code with capabilities from other .Net framework languages, such as C# or Visual Basic, WinForms, and WebForms. The compiler produces MSIL (Microsoft Intermediate Language) from your Cobol code, which enables it to run within the Common Language Runtime and directly integrate Web services.
Acucorp’s Extend, by contrast, includes the ACUCOBOL-GT development framework. The compiler produces platform-neutral object code that can be deployed, often without recompilation, to any number of platforms.
Neither of these solutions will solve every need. Depending upon factors such as complexity, transaction requirements, and integration necessities often stipulated by other enterprise systems, you might ultimately require a more complex renovation. But these solutions offer a good means to safely modernize your Cobol investments.
Getting started with these products was a painless proposition. Net Express comes bundled with Microsoft Visual Studio .Net Premium Partner Edition, a languageless version of the Microsoft IDE. I installed it to my existing Enterprise Edition installation and was set up with all the framework constructs required to begin editing my Cobol code within .Net.
I imported Cobol code and mixed it with other .Net languages, unifying my project management efforts. The IDE extended benefits to my Cobol code editing, such as Intellisense type-ahead prompting and displaying data information when hovering over variables.
Micro Focus benefits from a number of task-automating wizards. The Interface Mapping Toolkit allowed me to expose Web services interfaces to my Cobol using wizard-driven menus to guide the process. However, when I went to customize the default interface, I found the kit lacking certain niceties, such as multivariable selection and group property modifications. But this is hardly a deal breaker.