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The punchline from this concepts doc is that Responsive Platform separates storage from compute as a means of improving operations without sacrificing transactional semantics at a negligible performance penalty.

History & Background

Historically, Kafka Streams bundled storage locally on compute nodes by providing RocksDB based implementations of state stores. While storage on the compute nodes was not required to be durable (it could be recovered from a changelog topic in Kafka), performance necessitated storage to be persistent across restarts. The motivation for such a design was clear at the time: most deployments of Kafka Streams were running without access to the public cloud, and keeping the library free of external dependencies other than Kafka made it uniquely easy to deploy.

The limitations of coupling compute with storage are well known:

  1. Sizing your nodes becomes more of an art than a science, and many Kafka Streams deployments in the wild tend to overprovision on both to ensure that neither limitation is met.
  2. Elastic scaling is impossible since new nodes must bootstrap storage before they can become operational.
  3. Recovering from a fault or rebalancing is a challenge for the same reason as above.

Over time, the Kafka Streams developers have come up with elegant improvements to these problems: standby and warmup replicas, incremental rebalancing, sticky task assignment... the list goes on. Responsive takes a different approach to solving this class of problems in Kafka Streams by improving the underlying architecture to separate compute and storage - effectively eliminating these concerns in one fell swoop.

Remote Storage

As managed services in the cloud have become mission critical for many businesses, the original design goal of keeping Kafka Streams free of external dependencies holds less weight. To take advantage of this new paradigm, we built our storage solution to leverage Scylla DB, a battle-tested distributed database that provides:

  • Fast writes & fast Key-Value reads
  • Transactional guarantees to implement processing.guarantee=exactly_once_v2
  • Support for range queries
  • World-class operations: scalability, durability, fault-tolerance

But just as Kafka Streams must solve many tough problems despite delegating the storage layer to RocksDB, Responsive has developed technology to ensure that Scylla operates well in the context of an event processing framework. The next few sections examine some of the concepts we've implemented.

Instant Restoration

With a RocksDB-based deployment of Kafka Streams, restarting a node that has both a RocksDB store and a checkpoint file is easy: the application will know where from the changelog to start reading from and skip to that point before starting restoration.

Responsive's remote storage takes inspiration from that strategy, and makes it apply to any node - including those that don't have a checkpoint file. The latest offset stored in the remote storage is stored beside the remote store, so any new node can pick up from there.

This also doubles as a mechanism to ensure that all data written to the changelog topic is written to remote storage before the active task processes any data (see the next section for more information).

Exactly Once Semantics

Responsive for Kafka Streams leverages Lightweight Transactions along with the Kafka commit protocol to support processing.guarantee=exactly_once_v2. Specifically, three conditions must be met:

  1. Only the current active task may read uncommitted data while processing.
  2. A zombie task should not be able to commit
  3. All data committed to Kafka must be committed to the remote storage before any committed data can be read.

The first condition is ensured by buffering data in between Kafka commits. This means that the only time Responsive flushes data to the remote store is when data is committed to Kafka.

Zombies are fenced by using an epoch per partition that is incremented when a new active takes over an existing task. Scylla's Lightweight Transactions (LWT) are essentially a compare-and-set operation, and we can use this to ensure that the first statement of every atomic batch will check that the existing epoch is less than or equal to the epoch that the writer has reserved.

Finally, we leverage Kafka Streams' changelog topics to ensure that all data is committed to remote storage before an active can begin processing. After flushing data to remote storage, the client also stores the last offset in the changelog topic that was flushed. On a restore, we read that offset and restore the changelog topic from that point onwards into the remote store.


We can have our cake and eat it too when it comes to performance. The Responsive storage solution buffers writes and flushes concurrently, which makes writing extremely efficient.

Reads are more complicated - physics dictates that reads from a remote store will never be as fast as reads from local storage. But will that affect your throughput? Responsive Platform provides many tools to ensure this isn't a problem:

  • Most Kafka Streams applications benefit tremendously from caching: there is only a single writer, which means that reading from cache is consistent. Some applications, such as windowed stores and aggregates, often read a very predictable subset of the data, which makes caching extremely helpful.
  • Responsive Platform provides different types of stores that can be leveraged to meet your workload. In some scenarios, these specialized schemas may be more effective than the generic key-value stores provided by RocksDB. See the State Store API Reference for more details.
  • While latency for individual reads may suffer with remote storage, the ability to scale storage and compute separately often allows for improving throughput with less compute. Experimentally we've discovered that our solution can benefit from increasing the number of stream threads and/or collocating more partitions on a single node while RocksDB based solutions start to degrade.

Additional Features

Beyond providing functional parity with RocksDB, Responsive remote stores promise the ability to implement features that were not easy to implement with a RocksDB based solution.

Flexible Partitioning

Scylla's partitioning supports (and indeed performs better with) schemas that have many thousands (and even millions) of partitions. Responsive state stores takes advantages of this and maps each Kafka Partition to many remote storage partitions.

This concept is immensely powerful because it allows flexibility with repartitioning - with a remapping function, it is possible to increase the number of source partitions without making any changes to the state stores.

Time To Live

Already, Responsive offers time-to-live (or ttl) based on wall-clock - one of the most highly requested Kafka Streams features. The traditional RocksDB changelog restore mechanism means that implementing ttl is difficult, as the records in the changelog must be purged as well. Since records are only ever read into our remote store once, we can leverage Scylla's ttl feature and provide that functionality.

Interactive Queries

In the works is another highly requested feature: routing layers for Interactive Queries (IQ). In Kafka Streams, IQ only supports lookups on a single partition - any routing or scatter gather must be done by the client. Since Responsive's remote storage is backed by a fully distributed database, it can offer distributed queries that route the request to the correct node when queried from any node.