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Hearing About Google Colab in 2020

Why did I not hear about it earlier?

I find it strange that I have not heard of Google Colab until recently. A fellow student at the MSc of Social Data Science told me about the Google Colab, and when I looked into it I was surprised that I had not heard of it earlier. Colaboratory, or “Colab” for short, is a product from Google Research. It is an online Jupyter notebook service open for collaboration with free access to computing resources. It allows the use to write and execute python code through the browser. It is also free to use! This article is some rudimentary information about Google Colab, based on looking at it for the first time and exploring what information is available online.

Firs there are limitations. There are set usage limits (resource limits). You can go beyond the free service with Colab Pro.

A few great things about Google Colab:

  1. You don’t have to download anything to set it up, it can be run in the browser.
  2. You can store and share your notebooks on Google Disc (as can be done for Google Sheets or Docs).
  3. It is possible to upload existing Jupyter/IPython notebooks into Colab.
  4. Code is executed in a virtual machine — these are deleted when idle for a while.
  5. All Colab notebooks are stored in the open source Jupyter notebook format ( .ipynb).
  6. You can wait a day for quota limits to reset.
  7. Colab works with most major browsers, and is most thoroughly tested with the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

Why are free resources provided? Colab is able to provide free resources in part by having dynamic usage limits that sometimes fluctuate, and by not providing guaranteed or unlimited resources.

The possible drawback if you have a free account is the lack of possibility to predict these fluctuations:

  • “This means that overall usage limits as well as idle timeout periods, maximum VM lifetime, GPU types available, and other factors vary over time. Colab does not publish these limits, in part because they can (and sometimes do) vary quickly.”

It is possible as well to use Colab’s UI with a local runtime running on their own hardware (for the pro-version it seems).

One interesting aspect to note is that it is not allowed to use Colab for cryptocurrency mining. It is ‘disallowed entirely’, and may result in your account being banned.

One important aspect is closing Colab tabs.

“To get the most out of Colab, consider closing your Colab tabs when you are done with your work, and avoid opting for a GPU when it is not needed for your work.”

This is all great news for anyone wanting to collaborate on Python code.

At least it was for me.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 466. I am writing one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days.

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau