In the more recent survey, over 50% of respondents said Cobol represents more than half of all internal business application code.
"There has been no renaissance for Cobol," says Accenture's Burden. "There's not a whole lot of new development going on. But our clients are enhancing their core applications and continue to maintain them." Indeed, 53% of the survey respondents said they're still building at least some new business applications in Cobol. The vast majority of that code is still being written for mainframes.
But the fact is that many IT organizations don't have much choice but to continue using Cobol. Migrating large-scale systems built in Cobol is costly and risky. "They might want something more flexible, but they just can't do it. They're captive to Cobol," Burden says.
The down economy has helped put off the inevitable, says Compuware's Vallely. "Economic issues provided everyone with a hall pass because not as many folks were looking to retire," he says. But as the economy improves, retirement plans may pick up too. "Organizations are trying to be more proactive," he adds.
"No other language has seen as big an impact from changes in the demographics of the workforce as has Cobol," Vecchio says. Going forward, it will become more difficult to maintain a Cobol portfolio. "The inflection point will come when enough Cobol programmers have retired that an organization can no longer tolerate the risk," he says. At that point, most of those programs will migrate -- but not all.
For BNY Mellon, those Cobol batch and transaction processing programs on the mainframe represent an enormous investment. And while Gartner says it's technically possible to move individual mainframe workloads of up to 3,000 MIPS, the bank's aggregate workload, which relies heavily on Cobol, uses a total of 52,000 MIPS of horsepower, spans nine mainframes and is growing at a rate of 10% each year.
"The business wants us to make investments in programming that buys them new revenue. Rewriting an application doesn't buy them any value-add," Brown says.
Instead, the strategy is to "rightsize" some noncore applications off the mainframe where there's a business benefit, try to keep mainframe MIPS growth under 5%, and stay the course with the bank's core Cobol applications by passing on the business knowledge to younger programmers the bank will need to recruit and train (see "Closing the Talent Gap").