Pantheon Aims To Take The Pain Out Of Collaborative Web Development With New Multidev Feature

Drupal-based cloud platform Pantheon is launching a new feature today called Multidev, which it says addresses the No. 1 request from the developers using the platform — the ability to “fork” every aspect of a web development project so that large teams can collaborate.

Co-founders Zack Rosen and Josh Koenig told me one of the big challenges in development is synchronizing the work of large teams, with delays and bugs caused by a “fragmented process.” In a Pantheon blog post, they elaborate:

Accurate estimation and cat-herding will always be hard, but these problems from gaps in the toolchain are untenable. Blown deadlines and lost developer productivity have serious real-world consequences — they stretch budgets, fray nerves, reduce business value, and can even put a dev shop out of business.

That’s not the cloud. That can’t scale.

The need for collaboration tools has been the driver behind the popularity of GitHub, but Rosen (who’s also Pantheon’s CEO) said that GitHub has limitations: “GitHub only cares and knows about your code.” That means all kinds of problems can crop up due to platform differences or outdated databases or content.

Koenig said that with Multidev, on the other hand, “When you make a fork, instead of it being another copy of text or code, you get a complete copy of the database, the content files, all the services you have to have to run a website.” Pantheon has already built its own cloud platform for development, and each of those copies runs on that platform via a custom URL, so customers don’t have to spend time setting up their own local environments. The project manager can then merge everyone’s work from their own dashboard without worrying about “It worked on my machine”-type situations.

Rosen and Koenig gave me a demo of Multidev, quickly setting up separate project forks and then merging them again. As you can probably guess, I don’t have any direct experience with web development, so the demo went a bit over my head, but I sent the basic information over to TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans, who actually works in the field. He told me that it “actually sounds quite cool” and that he’d consider using it for one of his current projects.

Pantheon, which launched in 2011, was built to address many of the problems that Rosen, Koenig, and their co-founder/CTO David Strauss encountered while working as Drupal consultants. Eventually, Rosen said he realized that he wanted to solve those problems with a single technology platform, rather than building custom solutions and “throwing them over the wall.” He added that for many developers, the job of building a website for a large business has become as much about systems administration as it has about development per se — Pantheon can get developers focused on building a great website again while its technology handles everything else, including the hardware, the operating system, and scaling.

Multidev will be available to Pantheon’s self-serve and enterprise customers.