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Enterprise COBOL 5.1—Where Tradition Meets Innovation


COBOL is the most ubiquitous programming language for developing business applications. Despite that its specification was created more than 50 years ago, COBOL is still running the world’s most critical business applications. Many of us might not realize how much we rely on COBOL applications in our day-to-day lives. Every time we use an ATM, book an airline ticket, process a check or make an insurance claim, we’re using a COBOL application to process the transaction, and there’s a good chance this application is running on System z.

Modernizing Enterprise COBOL

Enterprise COBOL is a premier enterprise-class COBOL compiler on System z, powering many business-critical applications. Time proven and reliable, COBOL has a long history of delivering new and innovative features for developers to modernize key applications, and increase productivity.

Modern System z servers—z10, zEnterprise 196 and zEnterprise EC12 (zEC12), for example—are designed with high-performance microprocessors and are reshaping the IT landscape. COBOL developers are expected to deliver new functions faster with higher quality and performance. As the hardware become more complex, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for application developers to simultaneously handle business logic and performance issues in the applications they’re working on. They need state-of-the-art compilation technology to provide advanced optimization and hardware exploitation to deliver leading-edge performance so they can focus on the business logic. To satisfy this requirement, Enterprise COBOL needs to transition to a new technology base to ensure timely delivery of System z hardware exploitation and advanced optimizations.

Improving Performance

Announced in April, Enterprise COBOL for z/OS V5.1 was re-architected to include a new optimization framework based on proven technology shipped in Java on System z. IBM has been shipping this technology since 2006. Unlike Java, this new framework for COBOL is static in nature. It provides advanced COBOL specific optimizations, and full z/Architecture exploitation (z900 through zEC12). A new option, ARCH, enables users to specify which z/Architecture to optimize their applications for. Increasing performance of COBOL applications provides savings in CPU utilization and the ability to meet service-level agreements.

Enterprise COBOL V5.1 runs on z/OS V1.13 and later. It provides significant performance improvements over Enterprise COBOL V4. According to internal IBM test results, many well-structured, CPU-intensive batch applications have seen performance increases greater than 10 percent. Many numerically intensive programs have shown performance increases greater than 20 percent.

Users don’t have to optimize the entire application because optimized code works with non-optimized code. They can, therefore, achieve performance goals by selectively optimizing performance hotspots in an iterative and controlled way.

Maintaining Compatibility

Organizations can stage the upgrade effort to COBOL V5. They don’t need to recompile an entire application to use Enterprise COBOL V5. It’s source- and binary-compatible with older releases of COBOL compilers for System z. Most correct programs will compile and execute without changes, producing the same results. “Old” and “new” codes can interoperate within an application, communicating by static or dynamic calls.

Some old language syntax and options have been removed in the new compiler. They include supports for millennium language extension, label declaratives, non-reentrant programs above 16MB, OS/VS COBOL inter-operation, AMODE 24, and XMLPARSE(COMPAT).

Modernizing Applications

Application modernization promotes reuse of proven software assets. Enterprise COBOL V5.1 enables developers to methodologically modernize existing COBOL applications and integrate them with new ones running on modern infrastructures (e.g., Web, cloud or mobile). It allows organizations to deliver new enhancements quicker with lower risk and cost.

Enterprise COBOL V5.1 also supports Java 7 and provides users better control over generation of XML documents. It uses the z/OS XML parser, allowing parsing to be offloaded to specialty engines to reduce cost. It also provides support for unbounded tables and groups, which allows developers to enable top-down mapping of data structures between XML and COBOL applications.

As one IT architect with a North American health care company puts it, “XML is increasing in importance for our company, and IBM has enhanced XML support in Enterprise COBOL V5 with changes that allow us to take advantage of z/OS XML System Services to reduce the cost of COBOL-based XML processing.”

Roland Koo is product manager, Compilers, with IBM, responsible for C, C++, Fortran, COBOL and PL/I compiler products on POWER, System z and BlueGene.


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