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New platform helps port COBOL apps to Amazon, Rackspace and other clouds

ELPaaS compiles legacy applications into Java code

A new development platform announced Thursday by startup Heirloom Computing will allow companies to move legacy applications written in the venerable, but still-viable, COBOL language, which often run on mainframes, to a variety of cloud computing services.

ELPaaS incorporates Heirloom Software's Elastic COBOL IDE (integrated development environment). The system compiles COBOL applications, as well as ones written for IBM's CICS, into Java source code. ELPaaS provides a runtime environment for the applications, which can then run without any changes on a variety of cloud service platforms, such as VMware's Cloud Foundry, Red Hat OpenShift and CloudBees, presuming they are "Java-friendly," said Charles Krahling, executive vice president of sales at Heirloom Computing.

Heirloom itself uses Amazon Web Services, Krahling said. However, "the idea is not for us to promote any particular cloud. We're cloud-agnostic," he added. "We do all the packaging and all the interface with the cloud providers. We're trying to make it easy to move these applications to the cloud."

The free version of ELPaaS is available to individual developers and has limited support and choices of tooling, as well as no service-level agreement. A standard edition, available via subscription, adds in more tools, an SLA, better I/O performance and support for applications written for CICS. It's available for "teams deploying general-purpose applications in the cloud."

A high-end Enterprise Edition supports "mission-critical" applications requiring an even higher level of I/O performance, according to its website.

Elastic COBOL has about 400 users so far, according to Krahling.

"Anything that can give new life to legacy apps will find a ready audience in older IT shops," said Frank Scavo, president of IT research and advisory firm Computer Economics, via email.

Computer Economics' research has found that some 27 percent of North American IT shops are "currently investing in some sort of legacy apps renewal, which can be as simple as updating the documentation to adding an entirely new GUI," Scavo added.

While mainframes cost a lot of money to run, the COBOL systems that run on them can be very stable and need little support, Scavo said. Therefore "many COBOL shops have little incentive to make the huge investment required to rewrite these apps, just to get rid of the mainframe."

Usually, companies keep the applications but outsource mainframe operations to a third party, Scavo said.

"CIOs haven't been looking to move their COBOL apps to the public clouds such as AWS or Rackspace, because such options haven't existed," he added. That could change if options like ELPaaS prove successful, Scavo said.

"I'm pretty sure [ELPaaS' approach] will still require tweaks to the COBOL code, as well as extensive testing," Scavo added. "But, I think it's something that mainframe IT shops should add to their list of options."

"Success is not guaranteed," Scavo added. "Mainframe shops are notoriously conservative. It will take a few case studies of success to really get mainframe CIOs to consider it."

Heirloom Computing's announcement also ties into a general uptick of interest in application modernization of late. Last week, Dell purchased Clerity Systems and Make Technologies, maker of software and services for moving legacy applications to newer hardware architectures and cloud service platforms.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com


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