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Hands-on Kafka Streaming Microservices with Akka Streams and Kafka Streams

YOW! Data 2018 - 16 May

If you're building streaming data apps, your first inclination might be to reach for Spark Streaming, Flink, Apex, or similar tools, which run as services to which you submit jobs for execution. But sometimes, writing conventional microservices, with embedded stream processing, is a better fit for your needs.

In this hands-on tutorial, we start with the premise that Kafka is the ideal backplane for reliable capture and organization of data streams for downstream consumption. Then, we build several applications using Akka Streams and Kafka Streams on top of Kafka. The goal is to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of these toolkits for building Kafka-based streaming applications. We'll also compare and contrast them to systems like Spark Streaming and Flink, to understand when those tools are better choices. Briefly, Akka Streams and Kafka Streams are best for data-centric microservices, where maximum flexibility is required for running the applications and interoperating with other systems, while systems like Spark Streaming and Flink are best for richer analytics over large streams where horizontal scalability through "automatic" partitioning of the data is required.

Each engine has particular strengths that we'll demonstrate:

  • Kafka Streams is purpose built for reading data from Kafka topics, processing it, and writing the results to new topics. With powerful stream and table abstractions, and an "exactly-once" capability, it supports a variety of common scenarios involving transformation, filtering, and aggregation.
  • Akka Streams emerged as a dataflow-centric abstraction for the general-purpose Akka Actors model, designed for general-purpose microservices, especially when _per-event_ low-latency is important, such as for complex event processing, where each event requires individual handling. In contrast, many other systems are efficient at scale, when the overhead is amortized over sets of records or when processing "in bulk". Also because of its general-purpose nature, Akka Streams supports a wider class of application problems and third-party integrations, but it's less focused on Kafka-specific capabilities.

Kafka Streams and Akka Streams are both libraries that you integrate into your microservices, which means you must manage their lifecycles yourself, but you also get lots of flexibility to do this as you see fit.

In contrast, Spark Streaming and Flink run their own services. You write "jobs" or use interactive shells that tell these services what computations to do over data sources and where to send results. Spark and Flink then determine what processes to run in your cluster to implement the dataflows. Hence, there is less of a DevOps burden to bear, but also less flexibility when you might need it. Both systems are also more focused on data analytics problems, with various levels of support for SQL over streams, machine learning model training and scoring, etc.

For the tutorial, you'll be given an execution environment and the code examples in a GitHub repo. We'll experiment with the examples together, interspersed with short presentations, to understand their strengths, weaknesses, performance characteristics, and lifecycle management requirements.

Dean Wampler

Head of Developer Relations

United States

Dean Wampler is an expert in streaming data systems, focusing on applications of ML/AI. He is head of evangelism at, which is focused on distributed Python for ML/AI. Previously, he was an engineering VP at Lightbend, where he led the development of Lightbend CloudFlow, an integrated system for building and running streaming data applications with popular open source tools. Dean is the author or co-author of three O’Reilly books on Scala, Functional Programming, and Hive. He contributes to several open source projects and he co-organizes and speaks at many technology conferences and Chicago-based user groups. Dean has a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Washington.

Workshop Details

Target Audience
Software engineers, technical leaders, architects and anyone interested in Microservices.
5 hours


Before the tutorial, please clone this GitHub repo and follow the setup instructions in the README:


Prior programming experience, preferably with Java or Scala, is required. Prior experience with Kafka, Kafka Streams, and Akka Streams will be useful, but not required.