Scaling Kafka with Docker Containers

January 15, 2017

Reading time ~5 minutes

In this post I will show how to use Docker containers to create and scale a Kafka cluster, and also how to create, scale and move topics inside the cluster.


Single-Node Cluster

First of all, let’s start with the most simple way to run Docker, that could be useful for some development scenarios: Single-Node Cluster

Apache Kafka architecture is based in 2 main components: The Apache Kafka server itself, and the Apache Zookeeper server used for internal coordination.

That’s why a Kafka single-node cluster requires at least a couple of processes.

If we talk in Container terms and practices, these processes should be run in 2 different containers.

The easiest way to do this is defining these processes as Docker Compose services is a kafka-cluster/docker-compose.yml file:

I will use a couple of Docker images. These are fairly simple and you can find their source code here: Apache Kafka, Apache Zookeeper, and Confluent Platform ***

version: "2.1"
    image: jeqo/apache-kafka:
      - zookeeper
    image: jeqo/apache-zookeeper:3.4.8

This configuration defines 2 services: kafka and zookeeper. The kafka service link and environment variable ZOOKEEPER_CONNECT configure the access from kafka to zookeeper service.

If we try to start these configuration with docker-compose up -d, Docker Compose will create a network where these service can communicate.

jeqo@jeqo-Oryx-Pro:.../single-node-kafka-cluster$ docker-compose up -d
Creating network "kafkacluster_default" with the default driver
Creating kafkacluster_zookeeper_1
Creating kafkacluster_kafka_1

If you want to communicate with the cluster from your application’s docker-compose configuration, you can do it as follows:

version: "2.1"
    image: jeqo/apache-kafka-client:
    command: sleep infinity
      - default
      - kafkacluster_default #(2)
networks: #(1)
    external: true

Here we define first an external network called singlenodekafkacluster_default that will give us access to the kafka cluster network. Then we add this network to the service network.

To test our client, start it up running docker-compose up -d and then connect to the cluster with the following command:

$ docker-compose exec kafka bash
# bin/ --broker-list kafka:9092 --topic topic1
# bin/ --zookeeper zookeeper:2181 --list      

Multi-Node Cluster

To scale a container using Docker Compose is as simple as using the scale command:

docker-compose scale kafka=3

This will create 2 more containers:

$ docker-compose scale kafka=3
Creating and starting kafkacluster_kafka_2 ... done
Creating and starting kafkacluster_kafka_3 ... done

You, as an application developer, only need to know one of the broker IPs, or use the service name to connect to the cluster. As the documentation specifies, the client (eg. producer or consumer) will use it only once to get the Kafka broker IPs from the same cluster. This means that Kafka scaling will be transparent to your application.

To validate that all brokers are part of the cluster let’s use Zookeeper client to check. From client container:

$ docker-compose exec kafka bash
# bin/ zookeeper:2181
ls /brokers/ids
[1003, 1002, 1001]

Scaling Topics

In Kafka, Topics are distributed in Partitions. Partitions allows scalability, enabling Topics to fit in several nodes, and parallelism, allowing different instances from the same Consumer Group to consume messages in parallel.

Apart from this, Kafka manage how this Partitions are replicated, to achieve high availability. In this case, if you have many replicas from one partition, one will be the leader and there will be zero o more followers spread on different nodes.

How do we configure this using this simple container configuration? Let’s evaluate some scenarios:

Adding new topics to the cluster

Once you scale your cluster, Kafka won’t use these new nodes unless new topics are created.

Let’s test it following these steps:

  1. Start a single node cluster
  1. Then start client, create a topic topic1, and describe the topic to check the broker
  1. Scale your cluster to 3 nodes
  1. Add topics to occupy other brokers

Using multiple partitions:

Or using a replication factor:

To decide what replication factor or how many partitions to use, depends on your use case. This deserves its own blog post.

Expanding topics in your cluster

Expanding topics in your cluster means move topics and partitions once you have more brokers in your cluster, because, as show before, your new brokers won’t store any data, once they are created, unless you create new topics.

You can do this 3 steps:

  1. Identify which topics do you want to move.

  2. Generate a candidate reassignment. This could be done automatically, or you can decide how to redistribute your topics.

  3. Execute your reassignment plan.

You can do this following the documentation here:

The steps described in the documentation are automated a bit with Ansible:

Inside the playbooks/prepare-reassignment.yml file you have 2 variables:

    - topic1
  broker_list: 1003

This will prepare a recipe to move your topic topic1 to broker with id 1003.

You can paste the JSON file generated into playbooks/reassign-topic-plan.json


And then run this plan with the another playbook: playbooks/execute-reassignment.yml

Confluent Platform images

All these could be done in the same way with Confluent Platform.

There is a couple of directories confluent-cluster and confluent-client to test this out:

Hope this post help you to understand Kafka topics and how containers can help you to run clusters in seconds :)

And, you know, run …

Published originally here:

Jorge is part of the middleware team at Sysco and an Oracle ACE Associate . He has developed business solutions based on Oracle Fusion Middleware technologies since 2010. Also he is certified as SOA Architect and Implementation Specialist at BPM, SOA and WebLogic products.

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