To this day, COBOL advocates claim that there were 200 times more COBOL transactions than google searches per day. Even IBM and microfocus claim this. It makes COBOL sound extremely relevant, but this number doesn’t sound very plausible to me. So I dived into the topic and found some interesting facts that make this number very questionable.

Always the same wording

The first thing I noticed is that almost all the sources write „there are still 200 times more COBOL transactions in the world than Google searches“ – with this exact wording. Sometimes a few words are missing: the „still“, the „in the world“ etc. See for yourself.

This makes me believe that most of the authors just copy-n-pasted the text from somewhere, without putting any effort into it – particularly no effort to verify whether the number is correct.

The number never changes

Another important thing I noticed is that the sources keep reporting exactly 200 times more COBOL transactions than Google searches, no matter when the sources were written.

You see this number in articles from 2020, in articles from 2014 – I have even found this number in an article from 2008. I don’t find this very plausible.

The source of the number(?)

So after I had noticed the above fact, I tried to pin down when the claim has first been made. I didn’t really expect to find a precise point, but I found these two articles:

  1. COBOL Enters The 21st Century from 2003, which says „30 billion Cobol transactions are executed daily“
  2. Google Zeitgeist 2003 which says that „55 billion searches“ have been conducted in 2003 (this makes 150 million searches per day)

So in 2003, there have actually been 199.09 times more COBOL transactions than Google searches. That is close enough for me to accept this as the source of the number.

It is not 2003 anymore

This just in: We have recently learned that it is not 2003 anymore. Leading scientists have confirmed this! It hasn’t been 2003 since 2004. In 2004, there were already 86,142,700,000 google searches. So in 2004, there were already only 150 times more COBOL transactions than google searches.

But in 2004, google was still far from where it is now. In 2019, there were 5.6 billion google searches per day. So in 2019, there were only 5.35 times more COBOL transactions than google searches.

They compare apples and orange-crates

There are 4 database operations (Create, Read, Update and Delete) and 2 kinds of database interaction: manual (interactive) and automatic (batch). „Google searches“ only count interactive Read accesses, while COBOL transactions count all 8 kinds of database accesses. So it doesn’t make sense to compare the numbers in the first place.

Interactive access involves user-interaction, which makes interactive access much slower. You can do millions of batch accesses in the seconds it takes to input a few characters manually for a single interactive access. Google crawls 80 billion webpages per day. Even if you count these only as single transactions, you have almost 3 times more Google transactions than COBOL transactions.

Are there 30 billion COBOL transactions?

To be fair, all these calculations assume that there are still 30 billion COBOL transactions per day and I have criticized other sources for not considering how the numbers have changed since 2003. So are there still 30 billion COBOL transactions? I’m afraid that question must be discussed in another blog article.