Monday, 17 November 2008

Mainframes on a cloud

I know what a mainframe is, but what is a cloud? I'll avoid any references to white fluffy things and get straight to a definition of sorts. Cloud computing gets its name from the way network diagrams have been drawn for years. There was always a bit somewhere that was drawn as a cloud. That way no-one had to worry to much about what was going on in that bit. Well now the cloud has come centre stage. It's still a way of glossing over the details of whatever infrastructure exists underneath though.

Wikipedia suggests that Cloud computing is "a style of computing in which IT-related capabilities are provided 'as a service', allowing users to access technology-enabled services from the Internet without knowledge of, expertise with, or control over the technology infrastructure that supports them". 

Wikipedia goes on to say, "according to a 2008 paper published by IEEE Internet Computing 'Cloud Computing is a paradigm in which information is permanently stored in servers on the Internet and cached temporarily on clients that include desktops, entertainment centers, table computers, notebooks, wall computers, handhelds, sensors, monitors, etc.'"

Which is all very nice, but what has it got to do with mainframes? Well the answer is Micro Focus. Micro Focus offers tools for mainframe users to migrate off a mainframe to, usually, a Windows platform. The theory goes that it allows programs to be updated and make use of modern technology at a much lower price than staying on the mainframe. Mainframers often argue that migrating applications to other platforms leads to poor performance or an extensive rewrite of the code, which in turn can lead to errors. They also argue that there can be problems when scaling these migrated applications on the new platform. And there is also the problem of off mainframe applications sharing data with mainframe apps. But I digress.

Micro Focus has a long history of migrating COBOL applications to Windows and .NET. Now it is focus on Windows Azure Services Platform cloud. Micro Focus is hoping that COBOL will become a standard cloud computing programming language - like Ruby and Python. Micro Focus are saying that because COBOL is designed to run in large computing environments, it is an ideal programming language for cloud computing. They are also suggesting that cloud computing could make a good substitute for IMS and CICS systems.

Now, as a died-in-the-wool mainframer, I'm not going to recommend that anyone migrates their applications off the mainframe. However, it is interesting to think that cloud computing could be integrated into the Enterprise computing environment in much the same way as distributed processing has been. And if younger programmers learn COBOL for cloud computing, it would be only a short step for them to be able to become CICS programmers - which would solve the problem of where the next generation of COBOL programmers are going to come from. I certainly applaud the efforts of Micro Focus to make COBOL a standard cloud computing programming language.

And finally, don't forget about the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2009. Last year's issue is still available at The annual user survey of mainframe usage is at - please let us know how you use your mainframe. And vendors, consultants, or service providers, can get a free entry in the vendor directory section by completing the form at Plus there are advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

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