Careers: Interviews
Roger Sessions, an Expert in High-End Distributed Software Architectures

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 skepticism.

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 relationships.

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 real success.

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 frame?

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 such as:

• 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 relationships.
• 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 Internet.
• Business application fortresses, which process mission critical business logic.
• Service fortresses, which provide enterprise level services such as credential management.
• 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 ( 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 are these:

• The continued displacement of big expensive machines by little cheap machines.
• 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 models.
• 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 professionals?

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 Fame)
• 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 truly.
• 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.

For everybody:

• 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 proprietarizes.

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 true.

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 do?

A: The fun, the challenge, and an endless supply of doppio macchiatos from Starbucks.

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 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.


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