“Kafka is necessary but not sufficient”: valuable insights on streaming strategies
Today marks the second and final day of the Kafka Summit, a conference that gathers the Apache Kafka® community to discuss code, share best practices and explore the future of streaming data with the Kafka ecosystem at its center. As Confluent CEO Jay Kreps states, “Kafka is necessary but not sufficient.”
For people and companies to get the most significant value from data, the Kafka ecosystem needs to include a wide range of tools built on five core principles: streaming, decentralization, declaration, developer orientation, and observation.
This post explains these five principles, why they’re valuable and how to apply them to your projects, according to Kreps and other speakers at the Kafka Summit.
Streaming: it’s not the “faster horse” of batch processing
Humans exist in an unstable reality. Nothing stands still at a cellular level, not even for a nanosecond. Even a few steps up from the cellular level, humans continuously process data without latency; it’s a necessary ability for crossing a street or deciding whether or not to drink that next beer. Kreps argues that this is the first reason we need stream processing. Streaming operates at nearly the same speed as its end users, which allows the data applications that rely on it to have a more considerable real-world impact.
Enabling products and teams to respond to data immediately can save lives. Michael Debouver, a cloud architect at Airbus, shows how his team built a streaming architecture that ingests, moves and makes sense of satellite data during an environmental catastrophe — without internet or a few seconds of lag. You can read about additional examples of how stream processing is applied to help save lives here: “Data for good.”
It’s important to distinguish between streaming and batch processing within this principle. Indeed, the event-based foundation of batch processing is conceptually incongruent with how humans operate in continuous motion. Kreps offers the analogy of the automobile industry to explain the difference between streaming and batch. He shares a phrase often misattributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” The point is: rather than starting a business to raise faster horses, Henry Ford organized a company that mass manufactured automobiles. He solved the base challenge by changing his approach.
Decentralization: the power of microservices
Decentralization in the form of microservices allows for the production of complex data applications. A centralized data warehouse and conventional ETL workflows aren’t feasible for products that ingest from myriad sources, transform and connect data in various exchanges and deliver in multiple ways. Microservices lets you and your team orchestrate data tasks using a modern data stack that accounts for the specificity of your project.
Kafka can anchor streaming architecture and replace database-centric design. Soby Chacko, a software engineer at VMware, presented common stacks for various use cases and the questions people should ask when deciding how services should speak to each other. The tradeoffs of each option typically come down to your priorities between ease of use, speed of connection and scale of data.
Declaration, otherwise known as simplicity
The principle of declaration suggests that everything we build should do what it says it does in logically consistent ways. Danica Fine, a senior developer advocate for Confluent, exemplified this principle in her talk, “Practical Pipelines: A Houseplant Soil Alerting System with ksqlDB.” She presented an eloquent solution for ingesting and transforming moisture and temperature readings from her house plants using a system based on a Raspberry Pi, Kafka and Telegram. It’s a simple design for a simple (and familiar) task, demonstrating that no job is too small for a streaming solution.
Developer orientation: building for first users
The developer-orientation principle refers to the need to build tools that developers enjoy using. Modern tools should prioritize the people who use them the most. Kreps says that creates three guides:
- Code is sovereign: New tools need to fit into and expand existing language ecosystems.
- Open platforms win: Services must seamlessly connect and easily communicate because there’s a large community working, building, and improving tools and products. Open source projects do this on an even larger scale.
- Development is about evolution: Digital products are never finished. That’s their beauty — you can continually improve, grow, and split them. Tools that work with rather than against this fact will expedite development.
Observation: happy balance between use and security
Last but definitively not least: Observation. This principle refers to the need for systems that allow for monitoring for governance. It’s the ability to maintain data security while getting the most value out of the data collected. Confluent addresses this need with its catalog of data streams, schemas and lineage. These tools let you observe your data as it flows.
Add a strong community, and you’ve got it!
These technologies and application principles work only as well as those who build and embrace them. Kreps says, “Interaction makes the Kafka community vibrant.” The Kafka community is, indeed, vibrant — both in-person and globally. He reports that more than 100,000 organizations use Kafka, and at least 41,000 people attended Kafka meetups last year. The Quix team certainly enjoyed the unofficial conference run, smart presentations, great conversations in the exhibition hall and magic tricks during the evening reception.
The Kafka community is expansive. But the stream processing community is even larger. Quix is thrilled to support the growth of a larger community around streaming, not just including Kafka. Meetup, keep in touch and get your questions answered with The Stream.
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Dr. Kiersten Thamm works as the Head of Technical Content at Quix. She directs the technical content strategy across the company by planning, writing and editing dev docs, tutorials and conference presentations. She also manages projects for the developer relations team and helps grow the Quix technical community.