Apache Kafka vs IronMQ: What’s Best For Your Business?



  • Enterprise messaging systems connect business applications for ease in sharing data.
  • Apache Kafka is an open-source solution boasting high performance and works well with big data.
  • IronMQ is a reliable cloud-based system with many features and flexible deployment options.
  • Kafka falls flat with ease of use and simplicity compared to IronMQ
  • While both systems work well for enterprises, small businesses without IT expertise would benefit more from IronMQ.

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Companies work with more information than ever. Many of these applications need real-time updates and efficient data processing. But the developer's challenge is getting the information to the right place at the right time. Applications use different programming languages, run on different operating systems, and use different data formats. Sending data over enterprise networks can be slow and unreliable. And you'll want to account for hardware differences.

You can solve these issues with an enterprise-grade messaging system (EMS).  Also called a “messaging system,” it helps unintegrated applications connect with each other.

What is a Messaging System?

Messaging systems send and receive information between processes, applications, and servers. The sender converts messages into data packets and sends them to a message queue. The receiver processes the data at its own pace.

There are significant benefits to adding a messaging system. But which program is right for your organization? We’ll help you find the best messaging system by comparing two best-in-class solutions: Apache Kafka and Iron.io’s IronMQ.


What is Apache Kafka?

Apache Kafka is an open-source software platform for stream processing. Developers can also use it as a message queue.

Like many messaging systems, Kafka uses the “publish-subscribe” messaging pattern. This means the sender classifies the message into one or more topics rather than choosing specific recipients. The message then goes to all recipients subscribed to messages from these topics.

You can configure Kafka to work with many programming languages, including Python, Ruby, Java, Scala, and C/C++. You can also use it as a log management solution: collecting files from different servers to store them in a centralized location. Uber, Spotify, Slack, and Coursera are a few of the major tech companies that use Kafka as part of their tech stack.


  • Open-source: As open-source software, Kafka is free for enterprises and developers. Some cloud providers offer a “managed Kafka service” that handles the software's technical complexities for a price.
  • Part of the Apache ecosystem: Kafka cooperates with other Apache offerings. This includes frameworks like Apex, Flink, and Storm.
  • High performance: Many performance optimizations mean Kafka can outperform other messaging systems. Kafka is especially well-tuned for smaller messages around 1 kilobyte in size.
  • Scalability and fault-tolerance: Kafka's design allows it to recover stream data after an application failure. Kafka is also scalable for both concurrent writing and reading of messages.
  • Well-suited for big data: Kafka is a strong fit for projects that need an efficient way to move massive quantities of data. Netflix uses Kafka to process performance and diagnostic event data, handling 8 million events per second.

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What is IronMQ?

IronMQ is a cloud-based messaging system. But unlike other systems, IronMQ is designed for the cloud.

The IronMQ platform handles the “heavy lifting” that enterprises need when setting up. It handles issues such as work dispatch, load buffering, synchronicity, and database offloading all behind the scenes. This frees the end-user of any installation or maintenance obligations.

IronMQ works with a variety of programming languages, including Python, Ruby, Java, PHP, and .NET. Companies like CNN, Twitter, Philips, and Coinbase use IronMQ in their enterprise IT environments.


  • Better management: IronMQ's cloud-based platform offers benefits over a self-managed solution. These include simplicity in setup, faster time to market, and better reliability.
  • Available and scalable: IronMQ uses many high-availability data centers. Message queues can use backup availability zones in the event of an outage. The IronMQ platform can automatically scale and handle increasing demand.  This ensures performance issues are few.
  • Feature-rich: IronMQ includes an extensive set of advanced message queue features to suit every user’s needs. Push and pull queues, long polling, error queues, alerts, triggers, and more are available.
  • Multiple deployment options: IronMQ works not only in the public cloud, but also with on-premises and hybrid cloud setups.

Apache Kafka vs. IronMQ: Comparison and Reviews

Apache Kafka Reviews

Kafka rates 4.3 out of 5 stars on G2 Crowd. One user notes Kafka is “easy to use, brings great value to the architecture, and enables scalability and extensibility.”

Another user says Kafka offers a “super-fast and near real-time queue mechanism. Debugging is simpler. Its persistence queue provides the great feature of retention of events for n number of days. This is helpful to avoid data loss in case of some issue or unexpected situation.”

While users praise the initial simplicity of Kafka, the learning curve afterward is steep. This is common for open-source solutions, which have little in the way of support unless using a managed service.

One reviewer warns Kafka lacks user-friendliness, especially for companies without IT experience. “For errors I ran into trying to get automatically launched per-test test clusters working, Googling and Stack Overflow answers tended to be contradictory… That tells me I need someone (most likely me) to become a Kafka guru. That’s not an expense a small startup should incur, and choosing to use a technology that requires that kind of babysitting is not one you make lightly.”

IronMQ Reviews

IronMQ rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on Capterra. One user in hospitality notes that IronMQ “...let us quickly get to solving the problems that mattered for our company.” They called the platform “simple to implement in our system… reliable, fast, and easy to use.”

Reviewers agree IronMQ can meet the needs of small businesses and enterprises. “We process millions of jobs a month and needed to scale outside of running our own Sidekiq instance. IronWorker and IronMQ ...solved it for us. We run a pretty lean startup and need to offload as many development operations as possible… We discovered IronMQ to be the right balance of functionality, ease of use, and cost.”


Kafka and IronMQ are excellent options for enterprises that need a messaging queue solution. Different organizations will have a reason to prefer one alternative over the other.

But organizations that don’t want the technical complexity, or who need more features and flexibility, are better off with IronMQ. While Kafka is a strong solution for stream processing, it will need more knowledge and work to get going. Or you'll need a managed Kafka service.

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