When Confluent launched a cloud service in 2017, it was trying to reduce some of the complexity related to running a Kafka streaming data application. Today, it introduced a free tier to that cloud service. The company hopes to expand its market beyond large technology company customers, and the free tier should make it easier for smaller companies to get started.
The new tier provides up to $50 of service a month for up to three months. Company CEO Jay Kreps says that while $50 might not sound like much, it’s actually hundreds of gigabytes of throughput and makes it easy to get started with the tool.
“We felt like we can make this technology really accessible. We can make it as easy as we can. We want to make it something where you can just get going in seconds, and not have to pay anything to start building an application that uses real time streams of data,” Kreps said.
Kafka has been available as an open source product since 2011, so it’s been free to download, install and build applications, but still required a ton of compute and engineering resources to pull off. The cloud service was designed to simplify that, and the free tier lets developers get comfortable building a small application without making a large financial investment.
Once they get comfortable working with Kafka on the free version, users can then buy in whatever increments make sense for them, and only pay for what they use. It can be pennies worth of Kafka or hundreds of dollars depending on a customer’s individual requirements. “After free, you can buy 11 cents worth of Kafka or you can buy it $10 worth, all the way up to these massive users like Lyft that use Kafka Cloud at huge scale as part of their ride sharing service,” he said.
While a free SaaS trial might feel like a common kind of marketing approach, Kreps says for a service like Kafka, it’s actually much more difficult to pull off. “With something like a distributed system where you get a whole chunk of infrastructure, it’s actually technically an extraordinarily difficult thing to provide zero to elastic scale up capabilities. And a huge amount of engineering goes into making that possible,” Kreps explained.
Kafka processes massive streams of data in real time. It was originally developed inside LinkedIn and open sourced in 2011. Confluent launched as a commercial entity on top of the open source project in 2014. In January the company raised $125 million on a $2.5 billion valuation. It has raised over $205 million, according to Crunchbase data.