5 April 2018

Is COBOL still alive?

This article addresses COBOL and mainframe, explaining their definitions, distinctions, applications, and explaining their relevance in important areas such as the financial sector and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Business transactions and financial operations

Most day-to-day business transactions play a relevant role in most people's daily lives, taking cash from the ATM, taking a bank statement, checking the bank balance, booking a flight or even making an online purchase are good examples of this.

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It is estimated that every second in the United States purchases are made with a credit card worth $4.7 million, in a single type of business transaction.

Worldwide, 1.1 million transactions are performed per second, more than the 60,000 searches performed per second on Google. It represents an average of 50 to 60 billion operations per day executed and stored.

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The companies that keep this information have always shown a growing concern in the operation of the data adopting additional measures in both security and accessibility, since this is very sensitive information.

And where are most of the data stored?

Where will a beneficiary's social security rebate be stored? Where can a bank's client balance be stored? What about taxes paid by taxpayers? Where are registered the IRS tax returns submitted this year through the internet? A flight booking? The movements of credit cards?

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What technology could be in most of the management and storage of all these operations? Who in fact is the greatest orchestrator of all these tasks? Who behind the scenes takes a big part of this role?

Application Front-end

The applications are visually more appealing and simpler to use, using cutting-edge technologies for this purpose with significant gains for both the user and the developer.

Increasingly, companies have made a strong investment in the image of applications, with the front-end of applications being given great importance, especially for the internet, website construction, data capture, appearance, usability on several platforms or channels.

The improvements are significant compared to what was done a few years ago, today there is no need for an instruction manual to make an online purchase, everything is at a one-click distance, everything done to streamline the buying and selling process.

And the backend? What progress has been made to support this evolution? What investments were made to support this significant increase in daily information, the growing number of applications and access channels? What progress has been made to manage and store all this information?

If new applications are born every day and the number of channels increases, the information that needs to be processed and stored increases exponentially.

This brings us back to the initial question, what technology can ensure processing and storing such a large volume of sensitive information in such a short space of time? What system can give us so much reliability, stability and security?

The basis of the financial market

In fact, the latest studies continue to point to the IBM mainframe as the major pillar of most financial market operations.

In the largest 100 banks in the world, 92 continue to use the mainframe, 87% of credit card transactions are carried out by this technology, 29 billion ATM transactions and 4 billion passenger flights per year are carried out by this system.

Although still referred to as an obsolete technology dating back to the 1950s and with a tendency to end, it is used by most of the major global companies.

Even with a date set for its death, the mainframe is stuck in staying.

In the early 1990s, InfoWorld announced the death of the old mainframe through Stewart Alsop, a market-based analyst who was editor and vice president of the magazine.

I predict that the last mainframe will be unplugged on March 15, 1996″


The prophecy was so great and had such an impact that some companies were quick to shut down their mainframe so they would not be stuck with obsolete technology.

This is one of the most cited predictions in presentations on mainframe. This system survived and the last issue of the magazine was dated April 2, 2007. Today it is accessible through the internet.

But in reality, what is a mainframe?

A mainframe is a computer that is in the category of large computers, specifically designed to process and store large volumes of information.

A mainframe is different from a supercomputer, although both share similarities and characteristics, such as high performance levels and high performance power. Yet they were built for different purposes.

Difference between a mainframe and a supercomputer

The biggest difference is that the supercomputer was designed to perform complex calculations, while the mainframe was designed to perform many tasks in a short space of time.

Turning to the world of games, the difference is clearer. The supercomputer would be the most suitable computer to solve a game of chess, a puzzle or a Sudoku, since the mainframe would be the ideal computer to manage FarmVille.

Mainframes play a key role in the day-to-day operations of the world's largest companies and are the basis of modern business as it is positioned in key corporate sectors such as banking, insurance, public services, aviation, healthcare and the e-business.

Many of the world's busiest sites used the mainframe.

It is estimated that a daily mobile phone user who performs about 37 transactions a day, 91% of his apps communicate through the mainframe.

Ironically, the more mobile you are, the more you interact with a mainframe.


How old are the mainframes?

The older ones were born in the 1950s, the brands that started building these machines and developing software for them were IBM, Unisys, NEC, Fujitsu and Hitachi.

Since the 1950s these brands have introduced significant improvements in both the hardware and the software of these machines.

The operating system used in the mainframe varies by manufacturer, most mainframes use the IBM Z / OS operating system or Unix and Linux variants.

The most widely used continues to be IBM's Mainframe, it has been present for many years in the most important market sectors of our society.

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The first mainframes used a central system where you could only access the system through a terminal.

The advance in communications and the internet pushed the mainframe into a distributed system. Access to the system has become possible from anywhere, even over the internet.

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“Its popularity and longevity are due to the reliability and stability of these systems, the result of careful and constant technological advances…”


“There is no other architecture that can claim so much continuous evolutionary improvement while maintaining backward compatibility” 


One of the great assets of this system is that older versions of programs run smoothly in a more current mainframe, so if we run a program developed in the 60s on a current mainframe the program runs without errors.

The successive versions of the system have evolved while maintaining compatibility with older versions of programs.

New generation of mainframes

Today, the mainframes are smaller and more agile than they were decades ago, their size is a little bigger than the size of a refrigerator and just like the size, the price also decreases considerably.

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The Mainframe continues to make history, in July of this year IBM launches the Z14.

Data protection and security

The new requirements of information regulation and cybercrime are changing the paradigm of companies, today the perspective with which companies look at their data has changed.

This new paradigm has increased the flow of enterprises to data protection and security, significantly increasing investment in this area.

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The global problem of the cybercrime data breach epidemic has been steadily increasing, with this epidemic expected to affect about $8 billion in the global economy by 2022.

Of the more than 9 billion data lost or stolen since 2013, only 4% were encrypted, making most of this information vulnerable to cybercrime.

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Using specialized cryptographic hardware comes the use of the Pervasive encryption mechanism, which is one of the most secure hardware offerings available in the market.

The latest Mainframe has the ability to run 12 billion encrypted transactions per day, this machine has 35% more operating power than its predecessor.

The advanced cryptographic capability of this system is not only in data, it also extends to networks, external devices and applications.

Cloud Services

The Z14 will also be available on Cloud, leveraging the advanced cryptographic hardware engine provided by this system, IBM launches an encryption service in the cloud 24hx7 for the first time.

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What is inside the z14 infrastructure?

According to IBM, the 14th generation of mainframe technology has the fastest microprocessors in the industry 5.2GHz.

A new scalable system framework that allows for a 35% increase in the capacity of Linux workloads compared to the previous generation z13.

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• More than 12 billion encrypted transactions per day in a single system.
• The world's largest instance of MongoDB with 2.5 times NodeJS performance speed than x86 platforms.
• 2 million Docker Containers.
• 1000 competing NoSQL databases.
• Three times more memory than the predecessor, provides faster response time, increased productivity and improved data analysis performance. With 32TB of memory is the system with more memory of the market.
• Triple I / O speed, faster transaction processing compared to z13 on increased data, higher transaction throughput and shorter response time.
• Ability to run Java workloads 50% faster than x86 alternatives.
• Leader in response time on the Storage Area Network with zHyperLink
• Allows for higher workloads in both real-time and data analysis. It also allows interaction with Internet of Things (IoT) devices and cloud applications without any code.

All of these system improvements are a clear indication that IBM wants to attract new customers to the mainframe with the Z14 and maintain those it already has.

And what is COBOL?

COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) is a business-oriented programming language, that is, the processing of commercial and financial transactions.

COBOL is one of the most widely used programming languages on the mainframes and is the basis of most programs executed in financial operations. The figures prove this fact since about 70 to 80% of all the commercial transactions in the world are developed in COBOL.

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There is a widely held opinion that COBOL no longer exists, there is also another stream of opinions that think COBOL exists but, as the mainframe, has its days counted.

It was born 10 years before the man went to the moon, survived the mad rush of the passage of the millennium, and almost turning 60, is silently stubborn in staying.

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The COBOL word itself is also widely used to identify who works in the mainframe area, if they ask an expert in this area what technology they work with, they may hear a response like ZOS, MVS, JCL, CICS, mainframe or DB2, but if the magic word "COBOL" is given, everyone already knows what they are talking about.

The Mainframe database

The database used in the mainframe is DB2. Like COBOL and mainframe, DB2 has also made history and is considered one of the oldest databases, and has undergone several improvements over the years.

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In the early 1970s when Edgar Frank Codd worked for IBM and developed relational database theory, he created a language for the relational database that he called Alpha so that he could apply his model.

IBM never believed in the potential of Codd's ideas, leaving him off the project by disregarding the various key ideas of the Codd model.

However, in the late 1970s a system was developed based on the ideas of the scientist, the "System R", and together with this system was created the Structured Query Language (SQL), which eventually became the standard language of today's relational database.

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Although it contributed to the evolution of the relational database, System R was not commercially successful, but the database systems that came next were based on this system.

In the 1980s other databases appeared, Oracle introduced Oracle 2 and IBM SQL / DS (which became DB2), only later came the SQL Server, MySQL, DBase III, Paradox...

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For many years DB2 was developed exclusively for IBM mainframes and only later in the 1990s did IBM introduce DB2 to other platforms and servers, including Unix and Windows, and later Linux and PDAs.

Other features were later implemented in DB2, OLTP, and the opening of z / OS to development for business intelligence and data warehousing.

The latest advancement of DB2 is encrypted database information in a transparent and non-database downtime without the need for DBA intervention or interruption of operations.

This new version has the ability to encrypt logs, catalogues, directories, tables and indexes, including all data types as large binary objects transparently.

Datawarehouse in mainframe

IBM has also made major investments in this area with a multi-pronged set of BI tools.

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There are several opinions about how DW is implemented in a mainframe.

Most sceptics are of the opinion that no one would put a data warehouse on the mainframe, that Mainframe DB2 would never successfully support a large Datawarehouse, which is very costly, time-consuming, and very difficult to deploy on the mainframe.

In fact, there are companies that still maintains their DW in mainframe although others have opted to withdraw it from this system.

The view that new technologies offer solutions with lower costs than the mainframe always require a more elaborate study.

If the company already has a mainframe installed and running, it ends up reducing the cost with the infrastructure rather than opting for a new solution that requires the installation of new machines and support software.

Here we must always take into account that the infrastructure is the same, the resources of the operation will be shared with the Datawarehouse. In the same machine, we will have the coexistence of the operational database with Datawarehouse, which is not always a good option.

The solution

In some situations, mainframe may be the solution for implementing an advanced and robust Datawarewhouse, it is a mistake to discard this option.

In other situations, the mainframe may not be the best solution.

Whatever the option, it is always necessary to evaluate each situation and try to maximize the solution to the extent that this type of solution is always a long-term investment for an organization.

Cost, operationality, performance, consistency and security are some of the variables that have to be taken into account and that, well measured, can contribute to the success of the solution.

We should never put aside solutions that at first glance seem to make no sense.

For many years, the mainframe does not seem to make sense, but over the years, it has proven that it can also be part of the solution.

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