PubSub+ Event Broker Review

Event life cycle management changes the way a designer or architect will design a topic and discover what is available


What is our primary use case?

We have a hybrid model because we have a lot of systems on-premise as well as a lot on the cloud. We have one instance of Solace in AWS Europe, and the other one is an on-premise setup in our data center, also in Europe.

How has it helped my organization?

Given the levels that we have designed into our topic taxonomy and the hierarchies, Solace gives us decent levels that we can get down to, in terms of granularity. It supports two to three character sets of their entire, end-to-end topic structure, so I can actually get down to level six or seven, or even more than that.

The last couple of releases have brought about event life cycle management. That changes the way a designer or an architect will design a topic and quickly discover what is available, and whether something has to be built out. That's pretty easy. With the life cycle of the event portal and the event cataloging that is available, it makes life easier for them. With all these new features in place it increases our productivity by something like 50 percent. Now, because we have a nice, curated view of the contents of the event in the event portal, it is easy to discover and to publish new topics. What used to take one day can be done in half a day, leveraging all the best-practices and the features that come with this product. Of course, you need to pay more if you use the event portal or catalog, but assuming all those tools are in place, it is beneficial for the productivity side.

There has also been an increase in productivity around solution management because of the ease of the key features that they offer. You don't need to spend time moving around multiple screens to manage something on the monitor, implement fixes, find hotspots, or even to publish something new. Because it is easier to navigate around, following the life cycle of an event, it definitely increases the productivity, whether it is from a solution management point of view or an operations point of view. From whichever angle you look at it, it makes life easier for that particular person.

What is most valuable?

We are implementing the event mesh feature right now. In my previous organization, we used the event mesh. Solace DMR, which is its dynamic message routing, and their event mesh capability is one of their unique selling points. It's a stand-out, a distinctive capability and a differentiator. It is a great feature and, honestly speaking, it is one of the biggest differentiators they bring to the table, compared to many of the message broker platforms or event broker platforms that I have used in the past.

In my assessment of Solace against other products — as I was responsible for evaluating various products and bringing the right tool into companies in the past — I worked with multiple platforms like RabbitMQ, Confluent, Kafka, and various other tools in the market. But I found the event mesh capability to be a very interesting, as well as fulfilling capability, towards what we want to achieve from a digital-integration-strategy point of view. It's distributed, yet it is intelligently connected. It can also span and I can plug and play any number of brokers into the event mesh, so it's a great deal. That's a differentiator.

It is completely self-sufficient when it comes to connecting the brokers together because it uses a proprietary protocol over the TCP layer. It is a Solace messaging protocol and it is not very difficult to configure it and use it. It is easy to use, easy to configure brokers and to connect them all together. 

From an administration point of view, Solace gives us a visual view of all the brokers in there. The capability of spinning up a broker and connecting it visually is still in progress in their roadmap. But, technically speaking, if somebody knows the administration of Solace very well, they can actually spin up a broker easily, either on a cloud or on-premises, on Kubernetes or on Docker, and can quickly connect them all together, and it starts showing up in their portal. It is pretty straightforward and pretty easy to implement. Here, we have been able to quickly set up the basic mesh architecture for the sandbox environment. It's straightforward and pretty cool as well.

Another feature and selling point of Solace is that it promotes and uses open standard protocols like SOAP or REST. We use AMQP in some scenarios and there are multiple other ways that we could connect as well, including JMS and TCP. There are five or six different ways that we could integrate with other inter-operating, distributed applications within our enterprise. Since Solace supports all of these open, standards-based protocols, it is pretty easy to connect.

It is also pretty simple to manage. The two major standout points are a very simple architecture and that it's a lightweight middleware platform. You just spin up somewhere and connect. On the top layer there is a single pane of glass to monitor and to keep the checks and balances in place, and also to administer from a cloud platform. That's a pretty simple, straightforward setup, like any cloud-based or middleware platform. The model that I have for MuleSoft in my company is the same thing for Solace as well. I would rate it as simple and straightforward.

I would rate Solace's ease of management better than competitive or open-source solutions, because they have brought thought leadership to the table for looking at event management and building a complete life cycle view of an event. Right from the time an event starts in the company, until the time that the event has to be retired, it goes through a life cycle. That includes discovering an event, designing the event, adding certain rules to it, configuring it, and deploying it. Finally, you'll want to monitor and operate it. The whole life cycle is completely manageable using Solace's UI. That is a great deal. None of the competition has brought that view to the table yet. This is another distinctive differentiator that Solace has.

In terms of the solution's topic hierarchy there are two ways to look at it. One is that there are particular topics that we set up and that are very static in nature because we know about their data already. For any other areas that are fixed, it is pretty straightforward because the topic taxonomy is already agreed on. It is already aligned with the stakeholders and it is easily implementable in Solace.

The other side is that if a publisher chooses to dynamically post a topic  — a new topic — if they know what the topic taxonomy model looks like for our company, then it is also possible to dynamically put the topic in place and publish it, as it is. 

It also gives you wildcard-based routing rules. Based on the topic taxonomy and hierarchy, I am able to route a message or use the wildcards that are placed in the higher topic hierarchy to even put in security. If a particular group shouldn't see a particular message coming in on a topic, I can control that as well using the right topic taxonomy or the topic hierarchy. In Solace, that is also pretty straightforward because their topic taxonomy definition and the way that they promote it and the way that we have understood it from them is pretty easy.

Kafka has a different way of doing that. RabbitMQ is very similar to the JMS-type of message platforms. Solace is very similar and it supports both dynamic and static. The solutions are even, from that perspective.

What needs improvement?

Another product that I use very much in my current portfolio is MuleSoft. It's an API management platform, and also iPass, which is Salesforce's company now. Both these products have to work together to give an assured-delivery type of middleware platform. We felt that having a connectivity layer or a connector or an adapter already pre-built in Solace for platforms like MuleSoft, Dell Boomi — middleware especially — would be pretty interesting. It would make it a more authentic and credible connector as well.

Today, we have to rely on JMS or a REST-based protocol but we have raised this request with Solace. While connectivity is definitely easier, at the same time, Solace needs to work on some of the connectors for industry-leading applications like Salesforce, Workday — multiple typical distributed applications that we might have. It is pretty good at this point but they can do better on that.

Also, a challenge we currently have is Solace's ability to integrate with single sign-on in our Active Directory and other single sign-on tools and platforms that any company would have. It's important for the platforms to work. Typically, they support only LDAP-based connectivity to our SQL Servers. 

We have one critical step, from an IT security point of view. If there are any SaaS applications or cloud applications which are hosted out of our cloud platform, then the only way that we can do SSO is through a SAML-based or another specific protocol. Solace doesn't support them at this point in time and we have raised this as a platform request. I think it is on their roadmap. But currently, it supports only LDAP. That is an improvement area for them.

For how long have I used the solution?

This is going to be my third year using PubSub+ Event Broker. I was with another company earlier on before I joined my current company. It was on the fast-moving consumer goods side and I started using Solace there. In my current company, this is a very new platform and I'm setting it up. But my overall experience on Solace would be two to three years' time.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Stability is definitely one of the key factors for us. My experience is that it's one of the robust platforms, because of the way that it's engineered and designed to work. It's absolutely a stable solution. We've never had any problems, given the way that we have implemented it.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It's a completely scalable solution. Our architects have been looking at using Solace for multiple different use cases, whether it is to do with event architecture or assured-delivery types of projects or even for a simple publish/subscribe type of messaging or an async-API type of model. It seems that our architects find this to be a tool that can extend across these lines of capabilities. Solace brings that to the table.

From the developer's point of view, it provides ease of use and ease of configuration. After somebody has worked on and is really proficient in IBM MQ or TIBCO EMS, which are heavyweight platforms that come with certain benefits, those architects and developers find Solace pretty easy to handle and to extend it to other application areas or use cases, including IoT, async APIs, pub/sub, and event-driven messaging. We also are using it for assured delivery, leveraging their queues and persistent layer. It does help our architects and our developers to extend their applications to all of those areas.

How are customer service and technical support?

Their technical support is pretty quick. We are bound by an SLA and we have the highest tier of support from them. The turnaround time is pretty good and they are strong technically. I would rate their technical support as good.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

The fact that there is a free version of Solace was something that we looked at from multiple angles. For example, when we need sandboxes, the question we had in mind was whether we should go for the paid version or use the free version. The free version doesn't come with support but it offers a lot of capabilities which a developer can play around with. 

But when we had to choose between the free version and the licensed version for anything on our test stage, pre-prod, and prod, which are the other instances that we have, it was a no-brainer that we wanted to go with the paid version, because that brings in a whole lot of enterprise-class support and multiple other things along with it. We take advantage of the free version for sandbox, for a little bit of training, and PoCs. But predominantly, we use the enterprise-class version for the other instances we have.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was straightforward in terms of: 

  1. The architecture design. The tool is organized in a very clean way, the mesh is organized. It is easy to spin up a particular broker in an instant, purely from an architecture point of view, as compared to real heavyweights like IBM MQ or TIBCO EMS.
  2. From a solutioning point of view, because they have features which were released recently which cover the life cycle of an event, it is easier and quick to handle the event flow from start to end. Whether it is for an architect or for a developer, it's a pretty nice tool to have. That's the second point: the simplicity of their UI and the way the life cycle works.
  3. From an ops point of view, after our applications go live, the dashboards and some of their operational monitoring capabilities or features are also simple and straightforward.

We haven't found anything significantly complex.

What was our ROI?

We haven't seen return on our investment with Solace yet because it's pretty new in our environment. But we do see there is a value it brings to the table from a digital-transformation point of view. Both the companies that I was part of, where I was fortunate to lead the digital transformation projects, identified Solace as the platform to make that change: from a heavyweight, old or legacy model of middleware, or MQ platform, to a very lightweight, modern, completely distributed model. It's quick and nimble and agile in all types of setups. That is a huge shift in the way that we do things and make things notably faster. Qualitatively, this has definitely been a great tool.

Quantitatively, I would not be able to disclose any numbers, but we sense that there is going to be a huge return on investment because we might shut down some of those old, heavyweight, on-premise-only platforms. Because this is also a pay-as-you-use model, we can effectively make use of the license, as and when we require it. There are definitely going to be good cost savings as well.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

They have good pricing in place. Their licensing model is a simple model. 

There are different tiers where you can choose what would work for you. As a customer, you need to know roughly how many messages a month you will use. 

If you know that it is going to be between 50,000 and 100,000, while there is a large gap between those two figures, you can start small and scale it over a period of time until you reach 100,000. You might start with 50,000. Since it might take six months to reach 100,000, what I would suggest is starting with the lower tier, because you don't need to pay for something that is higher. Then, as the demand grows, the tier can be revisited. That's based on the license agreement that you should have as part of the contract. You should agree with Solace that you will start small but that your intentions are to grow, depending on the demand that's coming in. Provide a roadmap of how long it will take to reach the next tier.

Solace appreciates that view of your roadmap, and they will also come along with you in that journey. They will tell you, "Okay, start with a giga tier, don't go for a tera," or even start with a kilo tier. Slowly, as you see demand going up — it could be once every two or three months — you can have a look at it. It could also be once in six months if you don't want that many interactions. See how many you have done. If it has not gone beyond 75,000, you can continue to operate under the current tier. But if you think it's going beyond 75,000, you can move to 100,000 tier. It's a staged and calculated approach.

You also have to choose which of their product models would work for you. They have an appliance, they have a software as a service model, and they have an on-premise model, using a Kubernetes based setup. You need to look at your architecture and where your real needs are for event-driven brokers to be sitting. The licensing model also changes accordingly.

You have to have the right contract in place so that you can reassess that contract every few months to see whether you have breached your threshold. It's not that it's going to stop working, but you need to have that as part of your agreement, that even before it reaches the 70 or 80 percent of the threshold you will have a call to see whether you want to upgrade or not. That's all part of the contractual terms and conditions and negotiations. 

What other advice do I have?

There are two important things to keep in mind when considering this tool. The first is to know what kind of problem that you're trying to solve. If it is just about having a pub/sub, there are a number of other tools in the market — including Solace as well, which offers a simple, straightforward solution. But if you are looking at completely digitally transforming your company and bringing in event-driven architecture as a key factor in your integration strategy, then Solace is definitely a go-to tool. Knowing the end-goal that you're going toward, the objective that you're trying to meet, is very important. That is the first step one needs to be aware of and clear about.

The second thing is the engagement model with Solace, whether it is the terms of the licensing model or the way you will work with their Professional Services team or their support team. All that has to be discussed and agreed with a clear customer-success plan in place.

Thirdly, you want to clearly identify what architecture you want to implement because the mesh can span across anything. But you don't want to start a big-bang approach. Start small and then grow. So you need to know how your architecture is evolving. Start putting that simple MVP in place and from there you can grow it into multiple phases. That's what we are doing.

Have the right people in place. Somebody who has a good background and experience in implementing Solace can turn things around quickly.

We have four or five architects who use Solace, and we have two administrators of the platform, or platform architects. And we have about five developers now using it, but that will probably go up a little bit once we extend the mesh further. We also have two or three in support.

I would rate the solution at eight out of 10. I don't want to give them full marks because there is a lot that they could improve on: the SSO front; there is also the community front, they are also changing their architecture depending on best practices of communities, the way the community works, and so on. There's a lot of work for them to do to re-invent their on-premise model for a Kafka container-based solution. I would give those additional two points, out of 10, if I had seen all of that in action. There is definitely thought leadership within Solace, so I'm assuming that it will come through at sometime.

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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