What is a Messaging System?
Companies are now collecting and analyzing more information than ever before and using more and more applications to do it. According to an estimate by Skyhigh Networks, the average enterprise today uses 464 custom-built applications for their internal business processes.
In particular, many of these applications require real-time updates and data in order to function at maximum effectiveness. However, getting this real-time information to the right places at the right times is a thorny problem for developers.
Different applications may be written in different programming languages, run on different operating systems, or use different data formats—and that’s just the software itself. What’s more, sending data over enterprise networks can be slow and unreliable.
The good news is that these issues can be solved with an enterprise-grade messaging system. An enterprise messaging system (EMS), or just “messaging system” for short, is a solution that allows different software applications without built-in integrations to connect with each other, exchange information, and scale on an as-needed basis.
Messaging systems facilitate the sending and receiving of information between processes, applications, and servers via asynchronous communication. Each message is translated into data packets and then sent to a message queue, where it can be processed by the receiver at its own pace.
Which Messaging System is Best for You?
The benefits of messaging systems are enormous, including the convenience of asynchronous communication and the simplicity of integrating disparate software applications. The question then becomes: which messaging system is right for my organization?
In this article, we’ll help you figure out the best messaging system by comparing and contrasting two of the best-in-class solutions: Apache Kafka and Iron.io’s IronMQ. We’ll go over everything you need to know about these two options: their features and benefits, their pros and cons, and ultimately how they stack up against each other.
What is Kafka?
Apache Kafka is an open-source software platform for stream processing that can be used as a message queue. The project was first developed by LinkedIn, and was made publicly available through the open-source Apache Software Foundation in 2011.
Like many messaging systems, Kafka uses the “publish-subscribe” messaging pattern. Rather than the message sender designating specific recipients, the sender classifies the message into one or more topics. The message is then sent to all recipients who have subscribed to receive messages from these topics.
Kafka can be configured to work with a variety of popular programming languages, including Python, Ruby, Java, Scala, and C/C++. Kafka is also used as a log management solution to collect log files from different servers and store them in a centralized location. Uber, Spotify, Slack, and Coursera are just a few of the major tech companies that use Kafka as part of their tech stack.
What is IronMQ?
IronMQ is a cloud-based messaging queue solution that links together the services and components of a distributed system. Unlike other messaging systems, IronMQ has been built specifically for the cloud, although it’s compatible with on-premises deployments as well.
The IronMQ platform handles much of the “heavy lifting” that enterprises need to do when setting up a messaging system. Issues such as work dispatch, load buffering, synchronicity, and database offloading are all handled behind the scenes, and end-users are freed of any installation or maintenance obligations.
Major companies like CNN, Twitter, Philips, and Coinbase all rely on IronMQ to exchange critical real-time information between the processes, applications, and servers running in their enterprise IT environments. Client libraries are available in a wide variety of programming languages, including Python, Ruby, Java, PHP, and .NET.
Apache Kafka: Features and Benefits
In this section, we’ll delve more deeply into the features and benefits of Apache Kafka.
- Open-source: As an open-source software project, Apache Kafka is totally free of charge for enterprises and developers alike. Some cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services have announced a “managed Kafka service” that will handle some of the technical complexities of Kafka for a price.
- Part of the Apache ecosystem: Kafka plays nicely with other offerings from Apache, including stream processing frameworks such as Apache Apex, Apache Flink, and Apache Storm.
- High performance: A number of performance optimizations enable Kafka to outperform alternative messaging queue solutions. For example, Kafka does not store indexes tracking the number of messages it has, which reduces the system’s overhead. Kafka is especially well-tuned for smaller messages around 1 kilobyte in size.
- Scalability and fault-tolerance: Topics in Kafka can be parallelized into different partitions, which are always highly available and replicated. This allows Kafka to recover stream data even after an application failure. Kafka is also scalable for both concurrent writing and reading of messages.
- Well-suited for big data: Thanks to its optimized performance and scalability, Kafka is a strong fit for projects that need to relocate massive quantities of data quickly and efficiently. For example, Netflix uses Kafka to process data regarding performance events and diagnostic events, enabling it to handle 8 million events per second.
IronMQ: Features and Benefits
We’ve gone over the benefits and features of Apache Kafka, so how does IronMQ compare?
- Better than self-managed messaging queues: As a cloud-based platform, IronMQ offers many benefits over a self-managed solution, including lower complexity, faster time to market, and better reliability. Setup is drastically simpler for distributed systems since you don’t have to worry about the intricacies of installing a messaging system on multiple servers.
- Highly available and scalable: Thanks to its cloud origins, IronMQ uses multiple high-availability data centers, ensuring that performance issues are few and far between. Automated failover means that IronMQ message queues can use backup availability zones in the event of an outage. The IronMQ platform can also automatically scale and handle instances of increased demand, without you having to distribute resources yourself.
- Feature-rich: IronMQ includes a large set of advanced message queue features to suit every user’s needs: push and pull queues, long polling, error queues, alerts and triggers, and more. Push queues inform receivers when a new message is available, pull queues ask a client for new messages at regular intervals, and long polling keeps a persistent connection open in order to allow responses at a later time.
- Multiple deployment options: IronMQ is available not only in the public cloud, but also on-premises and hybrid cloud setups—whatever best fits your current environment.
Apache Kafka vs. IronMQ: Comparison and Reviews
Given their feature set and popularity, it’s no surprise that both Kafka and IronMQ have received high marks from the overwhelming majority of their users. In this section, we’ll discuss reviews for Apache Kafka and IronMQ to help you distinguish between the two solutions.
Apache Kafka Reviews
Kafka has an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars on the business software review website G2 Crowd, based on 34 evaluations. According to one user, Kafka is “easy to use, brings great value to the architecture, and enables scalability and extensibility.”
Another reviewer enthuses that 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 really helpful to avoid data loss in case of some issue or unexpected situation.”
While many users praise the initial simplicity of Kafka integrations, however, the learning curve afterward may be steep. This is particularly true for open-source solutions such as Kafka, which may have little in the way of support unless using a cloud-managed service. One reviewer warns that Kafka’s user-friendliness leaves much to be desired, especially for smaller companies without the IT know-how of bigger enterprises:
“For the various errors I ran into in 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.”
Meanwhile, IronMQ enjoys an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars on the business software review website Capterra, based on 26 reviews. One user in the hospitality industry notes that IronMQ “let us quickly get to solving the problems that really mattered for our company,” calling the platform “simple to implement in our system… reliable, fast, and easy to use.”
In contrast with Kafka, reviewers agree that IronMQ is capable of meeting the needs of small businesses as well as large enterprises. According to a Capterra review from startup CEO Ryan M.:
“We process millions of jobs a month and needed a way to scale outside of running our own Sidekiq instance. IronWorker and IronMQ were the team that solved it for us. We run a pretty lean startup and need to offload as much development operations as possible… We discovered IronMQ to be the right balance of functionality, ease of use, and cost.”
Both Apache Kafka and IronMQ are excellent options for enterprises who need a reliable, scalable messaging queue solution. However, different organizations will likely find a reason to prefer one alternative over the other.
In particular, organizations that can’t or don’t want to handle all the technical complexity, or who require a wide range of features and flexibility, are likely better off with IronMQ. While Apache Kafka is a powerful solution for stream processing, it will require a good deal of knowledge and work behind the scenes to get up and running, unless you opt for a managed Kafka service.
Want to learn more about how IronMQ can help your organization build a highly available, reliable, scalable messaging queue? Get in touch with our team today to start your free trial of IronMQ.