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Application modernization: COBOL meets .NET

How will IT organizations maintain the COBOL applications written by the whiz kid programmers of the 1970s? That is the question Gartner Inc. analyst Dale Vecchio has been working on in covering issues of application modernization for the past decade.

The twentysomething COBOL coders of the 1970s are now in their late 50s and early 60s and are either retired or planning to retire.

Most of the younger generation of programmers are either in the Java world or the Microsoft world.

This would not be a problem if businesses were running exclusively on Java and .NET, but as Vecchio points out many industries, including banking and financial, are still relying on mission critical COBOL applications running in mainframe environments.

The central problem in application modernization is how to move that COBOL code into the 21st Century.

There are basically two alternatives. One is to re-write the old legacy applications in Java or a Microsoft supported language. The second alternative is to keep the legacy code but integrate it into a Java or Microsoft environment.

Among the vendors offering migration solutions, Vecchio is following the emergence this week of Alchemy Solutions, Inc., a Bend, Oregon-based subsidiary of TMV Holdings, formed as a result of the purchase of the legacy modernization products from Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp. Alchemy is now marketing the Fujitsu NetCOBOL line of products outside of Japan.

NetCOBOL provides the technology for migrating COBOL off the mainframe and into the .NET environment where it can run on less expensive commodity blade servers and interact with applications written in newer Microsoft languages, such as Visual Basic and C#.

“The Fujitsu solution that has now been spun out with Alchemy as an indpendent company is a re-hosting solution to the Windows .NET environment,” explained Gartner’s Vecchio. “It is exclusive to .NET. It utilizes Fujitsu’s NETCobol compiler for Windows. So this is a fully supported COBOL dialect in Visual Studio, on an equal footing with every other language in Visual Studio .NET”

In NetCOBOL, Fujitsu created a way to emulate IBM mainframe functionality so it can deal with the batch update paradigm of the 1970s, the Gartner analyst explained.

“They converted the app, which is still COBOL, to be a true .NET application,” he said.

This technology allows a Microsoft shop to do application modernization in a more gradual way, said Alchemy’s new chief operations officer and group president, Ron Langer.

“Our message is modernize at you migrate,” he said. “So instead of having green screens with 3270 data streams, we’re going to change the CICS to ASP.NET.”

The Alchemy approach allows Microsoft developers to work with the COBOL applications, and allows COBOL programmers to move into the Microsoft world, which he argues is easier than moving into the Java world.

“You can leverage the skills of your ASP.NET development team,” Langer said. “While bringing over existing COBOL developers. But Visual Studio and the .NET framework are a better place for the programmers that are moving off the mainframe than a Unix environment where a mixture of COBOL and Java turns out to be a difficult thing to do.

Another approach to application modernization is Attachmate’s enhancing its Verastream Host Integrator (VHI) with added WS-I compliant Web services with added FIPS-certified Crypto libraries and Native .NET client support.

This week, Jack Vaughan, SearchSOA editor-in-chief wrote about the Attachmate approach, Legacy-to-SOA modernization goes to court.

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