Explosive potential: Nitrous puts pre-configured development environments in the cloud



As someone who has been trying to learn programming over the past few years, one of the biggest issues that I continue to run into is getting my local development environment to function properly. For a beginner, an amazing amount of stamina is required to power through the inevitable command line errors that often come up when you’re getting started [1]. But while interviewing a well-known designer/developer recently, he suggested that I check out Nitrous.IO, a cloud-based development environment platform that he assured me would make the process much easier [2].

And sure enough, it did.

After signing up, you can create a development environment, or ‘box’, for one of four languages/frameworks: Ruby/Rails, Python/Django, NodeJS, or Go — all with little more than a button click. From there you’re presented with the familiar green-on-black terminal interface, all ready to go from the comfort of your web browser, letting you focus on writing code rather than fumbling with environment configurations.

I got in touch with Nitrous co-founder A.J. Solimine to find out more about how their product came about. While I find it a helpful tool for my own beginner-level learning, Nitrous was built to make software configuration easier not just for novices, but for everyone.

A.J. explains:

We’ve set out to make development easier and more enjoyable by eliminating the complexities that come with setting up and configuring software. On Nitrous.IO, you just write code, you don’t really need to know about Linux, and Ruby, and Rails, or Postgres configuration flags.

A.J. and his team began working on Nitrous (initially named Action.io) back in the summer of 2013 from a small shop in Singapore. The other cofounders are Peter Kim and Arun Thampi, who both studied at the National University of Singapore. While working on web and mobile apps, Arun and A.J. ran into difficulties keeping their development environments up to date for their many projects. They looked into Quora’s published explanation of their EC2 development, in an effort to see if a cloud solution might be the answer.

They found there were many configuration tools out there, but most with a steep learning curve and none built specifically for development [3]. The alternative that they devised (see a screenshot of the browser interface below) is one that has attracted a lot of attention and admiration from the development community, and from investors as well.

Nitrous raised $1 million in seed funding from Bessemer Venture Partners and other investors back in late 2012, and I’m told that since they launched their public beta in June 2013 they’ve averaged a stunning 500 new registered users per day. And in December they announced a beta ‘Nitrous for Business’ program, targeting larger teams that need a way to simplify their development and collaboration.

A Nitrous ruby box in the browser

The business model is very smart as well, in my view, with a number of upgrade plans (announced just yesterday) that give you access to more CPU share and virtual memory, as well as things like premium support, no automatic shutdowns (free boxes are shutdown after a period of inactivity), and direct SSH access.

But even free users can earn additional resources through Nitrous’s referral plan [4]. A.J. tells me that this strategy has served them very well so far:

The referral strategy has been a strong catalyst for growth for us – we don’t spend any money on marketing or advertisements, so all of our growth thus far has been due to our users sharing Nitrous.IO with their friends.

With an office now in the US as well as Singapore, it will be interesting to see how Nitrous progresses over the next year or so. They have made some astounding strides in a very, very short amount of time, so I think there’s really a lot of potential here. Nitrous is hiring too, for anyone out there who would like to get involved.

Expect big things.

Nitrous's US team after a go-kart outing
Nitrous’s US team after a go-kart outing

  1. I’m sure that many experienced programmers might assert that powering through such errors is an essential part of your learning, and understanding the development environment is important. And I think that’s very true. But with more and more people learning programming on their own these days, as opposed to in a classroom, a tool like this makes the learning process a little more accessible in my view.  ↩

  2. I’m referring to Sacha Greif, and my conversation with him is upcoming in a future article. He has written an informative post about running Meteor apps using Nitrous here.  ↩

  3. They also found some big companies centralized infrastructure in place for remote development, but that was usually the exception and not the norm.  ↩

  4. I’m going to shamelessly drop my own Nitrous referral link right here.  ↩