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COBOL code base in production hits 800+ billion lines

Still critical, still growing...

There is now over 800 billion lines of COBOL in daily use on production systems a new survey suggests, as the global COBOL application footprint continues to grow.  That's up massively from Reuters' 2017 estimate of 220 billion. The sexagenarian programming language continues to prove vigorous -- even if the knees of those practitioners who haven't had their jobs outsourced may be a little creaky.

The new figure comes in a survey of 1104 architects, software engineers, developers, development managers and IT executives from 49 countries, intended to determine the volume of COBOL application code running production systems. Commissioned by Micro Focus, it also asked about the strategic importance of COBOL applications to their business, future application roadmaps, planning, and resources.

Quelle surprise, arguably, 92% of respondents said that their organisations' COBOL applications are "strategic with future IT strategy" -- COBOL continues to power some mighty critical applications across banking, the public sector, airlines, insurance and beyond. Application portfolio alignment with new technology was listed by the survey's respondents as a key drivers for ongoing COBOL modernisation. Nearly half said they expect the amount of COBOL in use to grow over the next 12 months as part of these efforts.

See also: 1 mainframe, 2 critical databases, 43 police forces, 1 headache

cobol in daily use
It's not a dark art, honest...

Much has been made of an apparent COBOL workforce shortage over the years and the goldmine that awaits young developers willing to roll up their sleeves. A quick look by The Stack at some current vacancies suggests that salaries are no better nor worse than other jobs requiring substantial coding experience in other languages. e.g. A COBOL engineer role working on VME replatforming at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertised at mid-senior level is showing a salary band of £35k-£55k. (DWP acknowledges in the advert that "we know Cobol is an *interesting* ask, and our expectations of the depth of your COBOL skills are realistic...")

(DWP is one of the biggest public sector payers in Europe with over £195 billion payments made annually and runs 1 billion lines of code in over 12,000 code repos and 90+ languages. It is working on large-scale programme of work to move its entire legacy application estate from VME mainframes to a modern, open systems platform. This includes 11 major systems that pay out £150 billion in key benefits ranging from Jobseeker’s Allowance to the State Pension, some of which are over 40 years old and the migration of 10.7 billion rows of citizens’ data contained within around 250 mainframe databases from Integrated Data Management System (IDMS) to Oracle.)

See also: Mainframe to Linux: still a huge pain in the a***?

LzLabs Mark Cresswell noted to The Stack in a recent interview that “I’ve had a lot of discussions this year about the so-called ‘COBOL crisis’. From our perspective the way COBOL is being talked about in this debate is a red herring. The challenges organisations face with legacy systems are not in fact a result of COBOL, or any other programming language; the language is just a syntax for expressing business rules. COBOL is a programming language like any other which any self-respecting programmer could pick up and learn. The problem is the mainframe development environment, which really is unique. People with skills in the development environment are retiring and organisations are struggling to find people to replace them. The problem it is attributed to COBOL skills but it is people that understand how to develop on a mainframe that are in short supply."

As Micro Focus' Misty Decker added in a recent article for us: "Fortunately, COBOL’s core design required it to be portable across computing devices. That core principle remains intact such that COBOL can even now compile and execute on any server environment. But COBOL hasn’t sat still for these past 60+ years. Continued investment and innovation from all manner of communities, private companies and individuals have enabled it to coexist and integrate with a wide array of contemporary technologies, including JVM, .NET, AWS, Azure and, Containers, as well as more established production server environments such as the Mainframe, Linux and AIX.

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