Roger Sessions, an Expert in
High-End Distributed Software Architectures
Interview with Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an
exclusive interview with Roger Sessions, considered by many as the world's
foremost expert in high-end distributed software architectures, author of
many books, magazine articles, his own ObjectWatch Newsletter plus he heads
up ObjectWatch Inc.
Roger is a highly regarded conference speaker. ObjectWatch is an information
transfer company located in Austin Texas, specializing in courses geared
towards Software Architects and CxOs. They focus on Microsoft's Windows
Server Platform and Java's J2EE architectures, since these architectures
offer companies the opportunity to build high throughput (100,000,000+
transactions per day) commerce systems with low cost per transactions.
From 1990-1995 Roger Sessions worked at IBM involved in the CORBA effort. He
spent a year as a lead architect for the CORBA persistence service and four
years as one of the lead architects for the IBM implementation of CORBA's
persistence technologies. Roger Sessions left IBM in 1995 to start
ObjectWatch, Inc., a company dedicated to offering training and consulting
services in the field of high scalability, component architectures. He
started out focusing on the CORBA technologies, but then turned his attention
to Microsoft's distributed technologies, including Java, COM, DCOM, MTS,
MSCS, and MSMQ.
His earlier books include: “COM+ and the Battle for the Middle Tier”, “COM
and DCOM; Microsoft’s Vision for Distributed Objects”, “Reusable Data
Structures for C”, “Class Construction in C and C++”, and “Object
Persistence: Beyond Object-Oriented Databases.”
Roger’s most recent book, Software Fortresses; Modeling Enterprise
Architectures, is published by Addison Wesley and provides an essential
roadmap to all aspects of software fortresses including their design, and
implementation. Roger is the originator of the Software Fortress Model where
enterprise systems are treated as a series of self contained, mutually suspicious,
but cooperating software fortresses—matching the real world of J2EE and the
Microsoft Windows Platform found in many enterprises. Using Roger’s Software
Fortresses, you don't try to choose between enterprise platforms, you can use
them all by designing and implementing the unifying architecture that
recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of each platform. Each fortress makes
its own choices as to software platform; data storage mechanisms; and how it
interacts with other fortresses through carefully crafted treaties.
Q: Roger, you have a particularly demanding schedule with your expertise
requested worldwide. We are most fortunate to meet up with you. Thank you for
sharing your years of experience by agreeing to this interview.
A: As always, a pleasure.
Q: You have such a remarkable history starting with your studies at Bard
College in biology; working as a research scientist at the US National
Institute for Health; a stint as a VisiCalc developer at Software Arts;
developing software for Prime Computer; then onto IBM and CORBA. Can you
share some stories and lessons from these multiple careers?
A: Let’s see. My most important lessons from each of these stages...
From my career in science, I learned the importance of thinking about a problem
logically. This means forming a hypothesis, creating experiments to challenge
that hypothesis, running those experiments in a carefully controlled manner,
and then interpreting the experimental results with a healthy dose of
From my work at Software Arts, I learned the importance of predicting future
trends. Software Arts created the original spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, in
1979 and bet heavily on the Apple IIe computer. VisiCalc was by far the most
successful business application of its time, fueling not only huge profits
for Software Arts but driving much of Apple’s business. IBM came out with the
PC in 1981, but Software Arts largely ignored this new machine and continued
its focus on the Apple IIe. Lotus Corporation bet differently. It decided
that the IBM PC would become the dominant machine and wrote a new
spreadsheet, Lotus 1-2-3, for that machine. Lotus Corporation made the right
call and within two more years, Software Arts had gone from being the most
important company in the software industry to complete obscurity, all because
they waited two years too long to recognize what would become a decade
defining industry trend.
From my work at Prime, I learned what “mission-critical” means. I was project
lead for Oracle on Prime. One of Prime’s customers for Oracle was Soloman
Brothers. Soloman Brothers was a major finance institution of its time and
probably still is. Soloman Brothers wanted to make sure that I, as project
lead for one of their dependent technologies, understood the nature of their
critical dependency on my software. They gave me personal tours of their
stock trading and computer operations. I saw first hand what it means to a
finance institution for a machine or application to go down and how quickly
downtime piles up into huge amounts of lost income.
From my work at IBM, I learned both negative and positive lessons. On the
negative side, I learned how stifling politics can be in a large bureaucracy.
On the positive side, I learned how important it is to manage customer
From my work on CORBA, at IBM, I learned the difference between standards
that succeed and those that fail. I learned that standards that focus on
portability fail while those that focus on interoperability often succeed.
CORBA was a huge standards activity. It could be divided into two areas. The
first was the hugely complex CORBA API, which focused on portability. This
easily accounted for 95% of the CORBA activity. The second was IIOP, which
was about interoperability. It accounted for at most 5% of the CORBA
activity. Although the CORBA API received almost all of the early hype, it
was ultimately the lowly IIOP that was the only part of CORBA that had any
Q: As a world renowned expert in distributed architectures, can you share
your views on the major competing technologies today, the nature of these
technologies, similarities and differences, their strengths and weaknesses,
market penetration, and where you see them in the two year and five year time
A: In the enterprise space, the major competing technologies are IBM’s
WebSphere and Microsoft’s Windows Sever Platform. BEA still plays a role in
the enterprise, but it seems to be diminishing. WebSphere and the Windows
Server Platform are both enterprise platforms, that is, platforms on which
you can build enterprise systems. An enterprise platform is more than just an
operating system; it must also provide various cross-machine capabilities
• high reliability through clustering across redundant machines
• asynchronous messaging across the enterprise
• loosely coupled transactional support
• security services
• workflow management
• interoperability with other enterprise platforms
In general, the WebSphere technologies have two strengths. First, they have
better consulting support, primarily from IBM Global Services. Second, they
have support for most operating systems, in particular, Linux.
In general, the Windows technologies also have two strengths. First, because
of their close operating system ties, they have better performance than do
the WebSphere technologies. Second, they are less expensive.
Both systems have enough advantages so that both will survive.
The biggest surprise to many over the next two years will be the dwindling
influence of J2EE and Sun on IBM. IBM is already deemphasizing its J2EE
heritage. As Sun pushes the Java licensing terms harder and harder, IBM will
increasingly distance itself from Sun. Within five years I predict that the
term J2EE will disappear from IBM marketing literature.
Q: Describe the evolution of your “Fairies, Gnomes, Wizards, Dragons, and all
kinds of other interesting and imaginative figures?”
A: My figures are driven by my own boredom. I have sat through countless
presentations. I find it horribly tedious to look at slide after slide
showing boxes layered on boxes with more boxes within boxes and yet more
boxes connected to even more boxes with perhaps an occasional circle thrown
as a trinket for the masses. I have made a conscious decision that I will not
create more boring slides. There are already more than enough boring slides
to satisfy the universe’s needs for eons to come.
Q: Considering the evolution of the enterprise, your latest book is a must
read for all IT professionals and I highly recommend it. We would be
fortunate if you could share some highlights from the book and important
lessons. Also if you could expand on the different fortresses including:
Presentation, Web Service, Line of Business, Legacy, and Treaty Management.
A: The most important lesson is that architecture is not the same as
technology. Architecture is about how to think about systems. Technology is
about how to implement systems. A good architecture can be implemented with
any number of technologies. The technology becomes an implementation detail
of the architecture. If there is one critical lesson for IT organizations, it
is this: Architecture Comes First!
Enterprise architectural models, such as the Software Fortress Model, need to
focus on enterprise level issues. These issues include:
• How one thinks about individual systems and how they relate to other
systems in the enterprise.
• How systems should protect themselves from the riff-raff.
• How systems interoperate with other systems.
• How systems identify themselves to each other.
• How transactions should flow through an enterprise.
The Software Fortress Model considers an enterprise to be made up of a number
of self contained systems. I call these systems “software fortresses”,
because they have the following fortress-like characteristics:
• They are self-contained.
• They form a trust boundary.
• They interact with other software fortresses through well defined
• They are mutually suspicious of each other.
• They are each responsible for their own security, although they may use
other fortresses for credentials management.
Interestingly, as one goes through the different types of enterprise systems
and starts to understand them within the context of the Software Fortress
Model, one notices certain recurring characteristics and patterns. This leads
to a natural classification of systems. I believe there are six basic types
of systems, or software fortresses. These types are as follows:
• Presentation fortresses, which interact with browsers.
• Web service fortresses, which interact with collaborating systems over the
• Business application fortresses, which process mission critical business
• Service fortresses, which provide enterprise level services such as
• Legacy fortresses, which wrap legacy systems.
• Treaty management fortresses, which manage complex workflow.
Q: What do you see on the horizon that businesses and IT professionals “must”
be aware of to be competitive?
A: A difficult but important skill is the ability to compare and contrast
technologies. That seems simple. Take IBM and Microsoft, for example. IBM’s
WebSphere compares to Microsoft’s Windows Server Platform. Doesn’t it? In
reality, WebSphere consists of more than 70 technologies, and the Windows
Server Platform consists of more than 15 technologies. You can and should
build enterprises systems that choose from among all of these. But which of
these technologies are comparable to which? This is very difficult to
determine, for these reasons:
• Most people don’t have a standard model for how to build enterprise systems
in the first place. Therefore it isn’t even clear which of these technologies
you really need and where exactly you need them.
• Both Microsoft and IBM have overlap in their own technologies. You can
usually use more than one technology to accomplish the same goal. A good
example of this is database stored procedures and middle-tier components.
Both can be used to write business logic. Which is the preferred technology?
You won’t get much help from either IBM or Microsoft figuring this out.
• Both Microsoft and IBM are constantly renaming, repackaging, and repricing
their technologies. Even if you did manage to figure out how they compared at
one moment in time, things would quickly change.
I have been working on a standard process for conducting these types of
evaluations that I call the Software Fortress Enterprise Planning Process
(SF-EPP). My hope is that this will go a long way to helping people compare
and contrast technologies in a meaningful way.
The SF-EPP is broken into several steps. The first step involves doing a
software fortress model for the enterprise. The second step is defining the
categories of systems needed in a particular enterprise. The third step is
conducting a requirements analysis for those categories. The fourth step is
determining candidate configurations that meet those requirements. The final
step is choosing from the different candidate configurations. I hope that the
SF-EPP will help business decision makers and CxO types to better understand
how to make these choices. For those readers interested, I have an extensive
white paper and accompanying spreadsheet that takes you through this process.
It is titled “Modeling Software Architectures and Enterprise Choices”. It is
available free at the ObjectWatch web site (www.objectwatch.com) under
ObjectWatch White Papers.
Q: What do you feel are the top five hottest topics of interest to both
businesses and IT professionals today and what will be the topics in two
years and in five years?
A: The trends that I think will be the most important over the next few years
• The continued displacement of big expensive machines by little cheap
• Industry standards for security based on PKI.
• Continued work in the area of inter-enterprise messaging standards and
implementation of those standards.
• Intellectual models for enterprise architectures and tools to support those
• The almost total movement to browser-based interfaces.
Q: Who/what do you think are the winners and losers in IT in next five years?
[This could be companies, technologies, …and so on.] What advice would you
give to enterprises in their adoption of technologies in the next five years?
A: Sun Microsystems is rapidly heading for the trash bin. BEA will struggle
along for a while. All other J2EE vendors with the exception of IBM will
either disappear or be marginalized. IBM and Microsoft will be the big
winners in the enterprise space. IBM will focus more and more on consulting.
Microsoft will focus more and more on cost and performance. My advice is
simple. If you are an enterprise and you want a Java or a non-Windows
solution, go to IBM. If you want low cost, high performance, and scalability,
go to Microsoft. If you go to anybody else, you are taking a risk.
Q: What would be your recommended top references for the business
professional? And what would be your recommended top references for IT
A: For the business professional:
• On Writing Well by William K. Zinsser
• Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White (of Charlotte’s Web
• The Chicago Manual of Style by The University of Chicago Press
• Roget’s 21st Century Thesauras
For the IT professional:
• Of course, Software Fortresses; Modeling Enterprise Architectures, by yours
• UML Distilled, by Martin Fowler with Kendall Scott
• The CERT Guide to System and Network Security Practices by Julia H. Allen
• Transaction Processing: Concepts and Techniques by Jim Gray and Andreas
Reuter (oldie but goldie)
• Using CRC Cards by Nancy M. Wilkinson (another oldie but goldie)
• And, last but not least, Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier.
• Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling, because it is nice
to be able to talk to your kids and even nicer to be one.
• A good book of poetry, because what is the point of life without poetry?
Q:What are the top challenges facing businesses and IT departments in the
next five years and what are your recommendations to meet/overcome these
challenges? Please provide specifics…
A: The top challenges are to integrate, interoperate, and innovate. The
companies that win over the next few years will be those that can integrate
their own systems together, interoperate with other companies, and come up
with innovative ways of leveraging information and relationships.
Q: Can you comment more about the Open Source Movement—its current position,
its philosophy, the major innovations, and where it’s going?
A: Ultimately, I don’t expect the Open Source Movement to go anywhere. It is
primarily fueled by the “Stop Microsoft” sentiment, as was CORBA and J2EE
before, the former of which clearly failed and the later of which is well on
its way to failure. Open Source is still in the honeymoon phase, but the
harsh reality of daily life will rapidly dull its luster. Here are the
primary reasons I don’t expect it to go anyplace:
• There is no way to ensure that open source code doesn’t violate
intellectual property laws. Anybody can put in code from anyplace. There is
no way to know where the code came from or what legal agreements may have
violated along the way. The current SCO lawsuit against IBM is just the tip
of the coming iceberg, in my opinion.
• There is no business model for its ongoing success.
• There is no quality control.
I know people will hate me for saying this, but Open Source is a dead-end for
the enterprise. I make this prediction with great confidence: ultimately, the
only successful Open Source projects will be those that IBM takes over and
The only winner from Open Source will be IBM who will use Linux as an excuse
to discontinue support for operating systems it no longer wishes to support;
to drive the final nail in Sun’s coffin; and to strike fear in the heart of
Microsoft. No wonder IBM loves Open Source! Open Source is IBM’s dream come
Q: What additional books are you planning in the near and far term?
A: I would like to do a book on Software Fortresses for developers (my last
book was really for architects). I would like to do a book on case studies of
the Software Fortress Model. I would love to do a book of poetry. Beyond
that, who knows?
Q: From a context of past, present and future, what drives you to do what you
A: The fun, the challenge, and an endless supply of doppio macchiatos from
Q: What are ObjectWatch’s current vision, mission and roles, strategies and
values and how will they evolve over the next ten years?
A: We are an independent information transfer company specializing in
information that is critical to CxOs and Architects. I don’t see that
changing. What will change is the information that we transfer and the
technologies that we use to accomplish that transfer.
Q: Your list of accomplishments are staggering. Which ones standout foremost
in your mind and what lessons can you share with our audience?
A: I still get my greatest kick out of writing the ObjectWatch Newsletter
(available at www.objectwatch.com). I love it when somebody comes up to me
and starts talking about an article I wrote years ago and how it helped them
understand some major technical issue for the first time. If you are
interested in technical writing, my best advice is to remember that technical
writing is, first and foremost, writing. Treat it as non-fiction writing
about technical topics. That means that you must strive to write well, write
clearly, write succinctly, and write in an interesting and engaging style
that defines you as a writer.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what other question would you ask of
someone in your position and what would be your answer?
A: I would ask this question: What keeps you up at night? What development in
the IT industry do you fear the most? My answer is that somebody, someplace,
will discover and publish an algorithm that can be used to easily determine a
private PKI-type key given a public key. That would be the biggest disaster I
can think of that could befall our industry.
Q: Roger, we are very appreciative of the many contributions you have made to
the world, providing shape and a clarity for so many. Thank you for coming in
to share your views with our audience. We look forward to reading your
insightful books, articles, and benefiting from your wisdom in your global
seminars. Roger, you have a most illustrious career. I asked this question
before, “If you had to do it over again ….?”
A: Next time, I think I’ll order chocolate.