Vendor brings Cobol apps to the Web

The theme for Web services is integration, and Micro Focus International Ltd. plans to bring Cobol into the picture by equipping companies with tools that convert the legacy code to align with the emerging technology.

Micro Focus this week released its Net Express with .Net, a tool that will let companies adapt Cobol running on mainframes to work with Microsoft’s .Net Web services model. The conversion is designed to help companies reuse existing applications and potentially cut computing costs as more business transactions move to the Web.

Web and .Net services are designed to let business data and processes be shared over the Web between any number of applications built using standard protocols including XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Simple Object Access Protocol.

“Some companies want to move the code off the mainframe because it makes sense from many perspectives, such as skills or licensing,” says Ron Exler, director of research operations for Robert Frances Group Inc. He says Cobol skills can be scarce and expensive. Hardware, software and licensing costs also can be factors in the decision that involves a total analysis of short- and long-term costs, and the flexibility to adapt to changing business needs.

“Micro Focus is offering a nice way to make connections between the legacy and the new technology worlds,” Exler says.

Micro Focus’ intent is not to put a wrapper around Cobol code so it can be hooked into Web services. Instead, Net Express with .Net compiles Cobol dialects, such as OS/VS Cobol and Cobol 2, into a language that can be read by Microsoft Corp.’s Common Language Runtime, an environment where code is executed.

The Net Express tool integrates with Microsoft’s Visual Studio.Net, which provides features to debug and test re-compiled Cobol code. The Net Express tools will allow the creation and consumption of XML documents from Cobol and use Cobol syntax to read and write XML documents.

The first release of Net Express is focused on batch applications, but Micro Focus plans to support other types of mainframe applications. The company will work with Computer Sciences Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. to help companies move applications.

“We see that a services element will be important,” says Ian Archbell, vice-president of product management. The reason is that Net Express with .Net will not magically compile an entire Cobol application for .Net: Users will have to manually tweak various aspects of the code to convert the application.

Micro Focus has similar technology for Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition, Unix and Linux. Other vendors such as Fujitsu Ltd. and IBM Corp. also are developing tools to adapt Cobol for Web services.

Net Express with .Net is priced starting at US$3,000 per seat.