Terminal, a San Francisco-based startup founded by some ex-Facebook and Google technical talent, is trying to transform the way we do software development.
They’ve built system supporting containers, or ultra-fast virtual machines that will let developers write, ship and collaborate on code directly from the browser. While there are other somewhat comparable startups like Docker, which racked up $55 million in venture funding over the last year, Terminal’s co-founders Joseph Perla and Varun Ganapathi say that the promise of containers hasn’t been fully realized.
Years ago, most apps ran on a single-server and were monolithic and long-lasting. But since then, developers have broken out their apps into separate virtual machines. Container technologies let developers build and run these distributed applications without writing additional code. Every user on Terminal’s app store basically launches their own private server per app, and scaling is automatic. User can publish a snap (or a frozen snapshot of a running server) in their app store. There are several dozen already.
“Everyone is going to have a cloud computer and you’re going to be able to run and inter-operate apps in a secure and private way. You can basically rent this little slice of the cloud to do whatever you want,” Ganapathi said, pulling up one of Terminal’s several dozen public ‘snaps’ that support Debian and Ubuntu.
Researchers have relied on Terminal to program and collaborate on Matlab projects directly from the browser. The company has already racked up clientele like RailsBridge and even our own Crunchbase. Terminal supports pair programming in a way that could make it easier to run physically distributed software development teams or companies.
Ganapathi, who previously sold a computer vision startup called Numovis to Google, left about a year ago to work on this project. He teamed up with Perla, a former Facebook engineer, and two other co-founders, Danny Krause, who worked at Apple on the OpenGL team and former Googler Jeff Wu. Several of Terminal’s other employees have done stints at Palantir, Facebook and Google.
With containers, Terminal lets you run multiple processes at the same time inside them, and the company says you don’t have to learn any new commands. They take a couple of seconds to start up, compared to 60 seconds with Amazon Web Services or Heroku. You can bring up a few dozen of these virtual machines and quickly network them together. The company says they can shrink down to 1GB of RAM or grow to 50GB of RAM in seconds with no reboot.
“The dream is that I want to create supply chains out of code,” Ganapathi said. “What is the economic entity of a company? You have a bunch of people working together and cooperating in a distributed fashion. It could be interesting if you could take software and this system and use it to create a company-like entity out of a series of distributed agents.”
Terminal charges by the hour for server access out of a balance that you keep in the system. You can link your credit card to top-up whenever your balance runs out. When their machines go idle, you can pause terminals and not be charged. Charges start at $1 per month for a micro setting with two CPUs and 256 megabytes of RAM, all the way up to upward of $330 per month for something much larger.
Perla and Ganapathi were hesitant to talk about funding, but they do have a good runway from notable investors that they didn’t want to disclose at this time.