As inquiries brought on by COVID-19 strained state unemployment systems past their breaking points, the Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL) they were built with got an unfair share of the blame. It’s true that COBOL is legacy—its origins date back to a 1950s effort by the Department of Defense—but it’s also no accident that the coding language has lasted this long.
Reliability and portability have been hallmarks of COBOL since its inception. The industries that rely on it, including finance, aerospace, and ecommerce, are the surest evidence. For example, you probably can’t remember the last time you got an error message at the ATM (besides “insufficient funds,” of course). That’s because COBOL is behind the scenes processing an estimated 95% of all ATM transactions. Indeed, a Reuters report from 2017 estimated that COBOL powered 80% of all in-person transactions as well.
It’s difficult to grasp the magnitude of the language, but the 220 billion lines of COBOL being used in production environments around the world are handling $3 trillion in commerce every single day! It’s clear that COBOL is functioning fine and will continue to do so as long as compatibility to hardware and OS updates is maintained. The question is who will meet those needs as veteran COBOL programmers retire?
Keeping COBOL Going
According to a survey of 119 universities (primarily in North America), just 18% included COBOL as a core part of the computer science curriculum while another 9% offered COBOL courses on an elective basis. The Syracuse University School of Information Studies is one of the former, and associate professor David Dischiave explains why: “I professionally think that COBOL is alive and well and has been. I think there are a lot of people who want to put a stake in its heart and kill it and I don’t know why.”
IBM doesn’t know why, either. As universities fail to address the growing demand for COBOL programmers, Big Blue has stepped in to pick up the slack. Between 2005 and 2017, IBM programs and fellowships trained an average of 15,000 new COBOL developers each year. As one IBM fellow explained to Reuters, “Just because a language is 50 years old doesn’t mean that it isn’t good.”
IBM hasn’t let COBOL collect too much dust, either. Updates and iterative improvements over the years have enabled COBOL to function more effectively than ever before. The latest version, Enterprise COBOL V6, is designed to make use of the latest and greatest mainframe hardware unveiled with the z14 and z15 releases.
To keep its customers moving toward the latest versions, IBM announced end of support (EOS) dates for Enterprise COBOL V4 and Enterprise COBOL V5. The latter has already come and gone, and the April 30, 2022 EOS date for COBOL V4.2 will be here soon enough. The organizations that make the upgrade and recompile programs in the latest versions of COBOL V6 will enjoy improved optimization and resulting increases in program execution speeds along with continued support.
Companies can feel more confident in their COBOL investments with IBM stepping in to update both the language and the workforce behind it, but the work is far from complete. There will still be a resource shortage to keep COBOL running without incident, and COVID-19 should be further proof of that.
DTS Software products help mitigate the mainframe skills gap by providing simple-to-use automation tools that eliminate the need for expert programmers. Sign up for a complimentary analysis of your ACS Routines or DTS Policy Rules today and a member of the DTS Software technical staff will look for possible performance issues and provide suggestions on how to make the code more efficient. Sign up here.
Organizations such as Fortune 500 companies, healthcare providers, and governments all have vastly different needs, but they often rely on the same operating system for their highly secure, mega-powered processing needs—IBM® z/OS®. Despite its age, z/OS remains ubiquitous because of its inherent flexibility, allowing users to customize the ways in which data is processed to best accomplish their specific goals. While PARMLIB members and control statements offer a certain degree of flexibility on their own, Exit Routines are one of the most powerful customization tools available on z/OS. Despite the wealth of customization options they offer, however, Exit Routines are far from perfect.
Planning an Exit
Exit Routines are powerful, but extensive capabilities that frequently create expensive complications. It can be at times impossible to find a developer fluent in assembler, and you’ll also need a comprehensive understanding of system control blocks, data structures, and the complex processing modes that sophisticated Exit Routines require. In other words, while Exit Routines can almost certainly accomplish your organization’s goals, finding the experienced resources to do them can be so expensive and time-consuming that it negates any operational benefits.
Without in-house assembler expertise, DTS Software sought to implement a better system. The result is our Easy-Exit product that relies on Policy Rules. Policy Rules allow for a similar degree of flexibility you find in Exit Routines, but they don’t require you to revise, recompile, and retest each time you make a programming change.
Easy-Exits are available for almost every subsystem, including DFSMShsm and DFSMSdss, TSO and ISPF, FTP Clients and Servers, and JES2. In many cases, they can replace existing Exit Routines that are complex and difficult to maintain with modern, easy-to-understand, pre-built alternatives. Not sure where to start? DTS Software can convert your Exit Routines into the Policy Rules language equivalent at no charge.
Founded in 1991, DTS is a worldwide leader in storage management and systems programming. For more information on Easy-Exit, download our in-depth whitepaper. To obtain a free, no-obligation trial of Easy-Exit or any of the other well-known DTS Software products, contact DTS Software at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1-919-833-8426.
Smart speakers like Alexa (70% market share) are nosing their way into a myriad of workspaces, raising a lot of curious eyebrows and generating a lot of excitement about the possibilities for increases in team productivity and cost-savings.
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Those Alexa-enabled features concepts for interfacing with z/OS mainframes included how Alexa can help increase productivity with easy-to-use voice enabling automation for alerting (such as job failures, resource shortages, etc.) to being able to obtain simple information like disk space requirements, message definitions, and more for z/OS.
“Lots of opportunities exist for Alexa and z/OS to work well together, and the applications are now ready,” says Williamson. “We listened to the mainframe community and discovered the instances where the financial return makes improving communications across teams for IBM Z environments a ‘no-brainer’ with Alexa.”
In terms of security, you still need RACF authorization to access the Alexa/mainframe interface. Additionally, Amazon has a good deal of TLS encryption for data transmitted from Alexa to the web interface and enterprise firewall. Once inside your firewall, your normal encryption/authentication protocols would be in place.
From there, one area that keeps emerging involves using this voice-recognition technology to reference REXX codes in real time while making the next steps clear and actionable.
This Alexa application (or “skill”) is downloadable and will allow you to voice activate a variety of functions after setup. “We’ve made it easy to log-in on to our portal on Heroku and do a sign-in which of course utilizes OAUTH2 security,” says Pryor. “Sample LPARs are the DTS test to the z/OS system and from there you’re good to utilize many of the features we have put together.”
Some of those features include:
- Using different types of Alexa intents include: status, list, stop, start (submit), message, alerts, graph.
- Identifying various volumes and storgrps.
- Utilizing REXX codes to perform z/OS functions and confirm REXX exec.
- Using Alexa to receive alerts from z/OS in its DTS SCC Rails App configuration and accessed easily through a voice command such as “Alexa, what did I miss?”
- Generating a list of items or even a graph that can show on your screen, through commands such as “Alexa, graph the pool free space.”
- Ease of customization so users can issue commands like “list systems,” “what is the status” of a job, or “what is the system status,” delivering up-to-the-second information .
Pryor also adds that he has heard of using Alexa to keep teams on the same page when it comes to getting app development updates in the DevOps chain and sharing other relevant updates with virtual teams globally. “There are a lot of different directions where we can take this technology,” he says. “We’re excited to keep hearing insights and opportunities. For now, we know we’re on the right track and the feedback we’ve been hearing from our customers and the market is very positive.”
Click here for more information on Alexa and your mainframe.
In 2020, it’s estimated that more than a third of all Americans now own a smart speaker in their home, with Alexa keeping the lead with around 70% market share. Consumers report that what is driving this trend is both convenience as well as ease-of-use when multitasking around the home. Whether it’s searching for a fact (68% of users) or searching for a business (47%), there are still unique applications both imagined and developed every day.This trend shows no sign of slowing down. Gartner estimates that by 2021, 30% of all web-browsing will be done without a screen. (And half of all web searches, as well.)
Organizations and their IT teams are catching up with this adoption rate and validating the return on investment for implementing voice application functionality around the workplace.An increasing number of studies are finding voice-recognition software boosts worker productivity. Additionally, the ease-of-use that comes with integrating AI/UX into a seamless, intuitive process powered by voice is too rewarding for CIO and IT teams to not explore.Other studies show that over one-third of professionals in general in the workplace state that if they could change just one thing in their department, they would want technology and application interfaces to be “more intuitive and simple.”
DTS is providing a glimpse into the future, marrying Alexa and z/OS and what this might mean for large enterprises. DTS Software leads the way when it comes to creating a voice-interface that delivers on this demand from DevOps teams working on z/OS mainframes across the country. Tom Williamson, founder of DTS Software, designed a way to integrate Alexa with z/OS to execute a variety of tasks ranging from job status reports to starting (or stopping) those jobs.
“Integrating Alexa and z/OS can provide a myriad of different things for large enterprises. Alexa can help improve communications across enterprises and perhaps accelerate works in progress while minimizing mistakes,” said Tom Williamson, founder of DTS Software.
So far, feedback from the DevOps community has been optimistic while asking a lot of questions. Ideas submitted include using Alexa as a tool to get quick feedback on what status or error messages mean. Others indicate Alexa integrated with z/OS mainframes can aid with multitasking to enhance communications across teams and geographies.
As early innovators in the 1980s, for the past 40 years DTS Software has seen the evolution of the IBM Z mainframe and know it is not phasing out anytime soon. However, we know the pressure that IT and DevOps teams are facing. There are always ways to help IT do more work with fewer resources and better solutions, and Alexa can help.
To learn how to set up your Alexa to z/OS contact DTS Software here.
The death of the mainframe has been greatly exaggerated for years in the wake of cloud computing. But in truth, the mainframe continues to stand the test of time, processing roughly 30 billion transactions per day by 70% of the Fortune 500. Although the roles of mainframes have certainly changed somewhat over time, z/OS remains essential in most regulated industries. The fact is that mainframes are workhorses, powering global business for the past 50 years. In just COBOL language alone, there are 240 billion lines of code in production and every year another 5 billion lines of code are added.
But no application is perfect or complete when put into production. Traditionally, organizations have relied on exit routines, written and maintained by skilled assembler programmers, to tailor the operating environment to provide features and functions that match system processing to an installation’s unique needs. These exit routines may be called either explicitly or implicitly as part of application or system processing and may perform a vast range of essential functions. But as more mainframe professionals retire, organizations are unable to leverage exits to modify or manage app attributes as programmers with assembler skills have become increasingly hard to find.
Whitepaper Download: Exit Routines Made Simple for System Automation and Efficiency
Who’s Managing Assembler Code as these Experts Retire?
A 2018 report from Forrester Research indicates that almost a quarter (23%) of enterprise mainframe personnel retired from 2013 to 2018, and 63% of those vacated positions have yet to be filled. Yet, the speed of today’s application development continues to accelerate as enterprises worldwide continue to add Agile and DevOps methods to their processes. The ability to leverage z/OS’s exit routine utility is critical to keep up with app dev schedules in such environments.
However, great caution must be taken when using exit routines, especially those that run in supervisor state or system keys. An error introduced into an exit can bring the entire system’s nightly batch processing to a halt. Testing exit routines requires special care and internal system expertise. Once written, exit routines are rarely changed because of the difficulty of revising and maintaining the code. Programmers with assembler skills are critical to daily mainframe processing for customer-facing applications and yet the skills gap widens with every retiree.
Automation, the Opportunity to Adapt
With the shortage of mainframe assembler programming experts, organizations must adapt with better software and automation. DTS Software has created Easy-Exit, a product that eliminates the need for writing complex assembler exits and allows users to write exits within a simple policy rules engine. DTS’s policy rules engine provides all the flexibility available in assembler while avoiding the need to tediously revise, recompile, and retest for each change. Easy-Exit policy rules can perform tasks as varied as controlling FTP file transfers, managing WTO/WTOR content and destinations, suppressing SMF record types, and much more. Instead of hundreds of lines of difficult, undocumented, and sometimes obsolete code, organizations that use Easy-Exit can rely on the simple, yet powerful IF-THEN-ELSE statements of the DTS Policy Rules Language to provide critical functionality in a way that is clearly understandable to even your most junior staff.
As the mainframe skills gap continues to widen, embracing more user-friendly technology is one way to keep existing mainframe professionals on your payroll by creating more time to allocate to other burdensome tasks. More importantly, Easy-Exit allows organizations to take advantage of all the benefits that exit routines provide – superior functionality, detailed customization, and access to features otherwise unavailable – without the need for expensive, highly-skilled assembler programming expert. To learn more about DTS’s Easy-Exit, download our latest whitepaper, “Exit Routines for System Automation and Efficiency,” or visit our product website.