IBM Corp. is trying to make it easier for companies to take advantage of a mainframe’s traditional reliability and scalability for deploying emerging e-business applications. The company announced yesterday an enhanced mainframe version of its WebSphere e-commerce software suite featuring support for Java2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) technology.

Basically, J2EE provides for a component-based and platform-independent approach to application development. Applications built using J2EE aren’t tied to any product platforms or vendor application programming interfaces.

As a result, the new capability in WebSphere will make it possible for IBM users to take J2EE-compliant applications that were developed on other platforms and run them unchanged on an IBM S/390 or the eServer z900 mainframe, said David Chew, a director at IBM’s WebSphere business unit.

This kind of portability lets users take better advantage of their mainframe resources to run new application workloads in a reliable and scalable manner, said Dale Vecchio, an analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Group Inc.

Support for technologies such as J2EE also makes it easier for companies to integrate new applications with the large base of existing OS/390 mainframe applications, he added.

“The mainframe is back on the table as a viable platform, particularly in companies that have large installations,” Vecchio said.

“A lot of it has to do with the complexity of managing large Unix and [Windows] NT server farms and the inability to get the quality of service levels they’ve established [with mainframes],” he said.

By integrating support for standards such as XML and J2EE-compliant Java technology, IBM is making it possible for companies to develop new e-business applications and transactions on the mainframe, Vecchio said.

Despite the ease of management and the reliability benefits, the idea of running Java workloads on a mainframe is still likely to appeal only to those who already have mainframes, said Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts., a part of West Group, a $1.4 billion Eagan, Minn.-based legal research and information services firm in Eagan, Minn., has been using the beta version of the new WebSphere software to link its mainframe-based data sources to new XML-based sources, said John Northway, a software engineer at the company.

“It’s a bridge between our legacy data and our new data,” Northway said. The software has automated much of the management and has replaced the homegrown, Java-based application server Westlaw had developed to handle this integration previously, he said.