Evolution versus Revolution

David Tan

I got an e-mail the other day and the subject of it was 'COBOL in the Cloud.'  Needless to say, this intrigued me and I of course had to read about it. Turns out it was a story about how Micro Focus is enabling legacy COBOL applications to run on top of Microsoft's new Azure Services Platform for cloud computing, which is about to go live. This got me thinking about software and the IT industry in general.

They say that everything old is new again, and this couldn't be truer than in technology. While there are abundant choices for building cloud-based applications (.NET, Java, Ruby, etc), it turns out that COBOL is actually a pretty logical choice for this type of environment. Cloud-based applications need to be stateless, optimize communication back and forth between client and server, and run well with multi-tenant environments -- exactly like mainframe applications have had to work for more than 20 years.

Every time a new paradigm comes along in technology, people start to run for cover. The way we do everything is changing. I'll have to completely reshape my platforms and budgets over the next three to five years. How will I ever keep up? When the truth is, we seem to get very few revolutionary changes in IT. We get a good deal of evolution. This is a good thing. Revolution means pain and suffering, often bloodshed and complete upheaval (OK, maybe not bloodshed when it comes to IT, but you get the idea). Evolution is gradual and freeing. People don't die (or lose their jobs) during an evolution.

I think the problem is, people don't often see far enough ahead of them, or if they do, they simply choose to ignore it. Three years ago I was at a keynote speech given by Microsoft COO Kevin Turner. He said we were headed into a tunnel, and there was a light on the end off in the distance. That light was either the other end of the tunnel, or a train. Well, we're three years through the tunnel, and if you saw the light, you're about to come out the other side. If you didn't, hold on, that train's a comin'.

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