The last few years have brought about immense changes in the software architecture landscape. The notion of a single monolithic application, or even several coarse-grained services sharing a common data store has been all but erased from the hearts and minds of software practitioners world-wide. Autonomous microservices, event-driven architecture, and CQRS are the dominant tools in the construction of contemporary business-centric applications. To top it off, the proliferation of device connectivity — IoT, mobile, wearables — are creating an upward pressure on the number of events a system must handle in near-real-time.
Let's start by acknowledging that the term 'fast' is multi-faceted, complex, and highly ambiguous. Latency, throughput, jitter, are metrics that shape and influence one's interpretation of the term. It is also inherently contextual: the industry and application domains in themselves set the norms and expectations around performance. Whether or not something is fast depends largely on one's frame of reference.
Apache Kafka is optimised for throughput at the expense of latency and jitter, while preserving other desirable qualities, such as durability, strict record order, and at-least-once delivery semantics. When someone says 'Kafka is fast', and assuming they are at least mildly competent, you can assume they are referring to Kafka's ability to safely accumulate and distribute a very high number of records in a short amount of time.