Getting started with ML: Colab or self-hosted Jupyter?

The basic trade off is well-known. If you use an online VM like Google's Colab or Amazon's EC2 instances, you don't need hardware, but the cost of running the VMs will get expensive later. If you self-host, you need to buy some dedicated hardware, most likely a graphics card.

TLDR: use Colab

But as a beginner, this trade off doesn't come into play yet, since most tutorials will train models within minutes. As a beginner, I need an easy to set up environment. In this case, Colab wins hands down. Go to, and that's it, you can type in your first instructions.


If you want to self-host, you have lots to consider:

  • First you need to install Python. You'll have to make sure you use Python 3, and not Python 2.
  • Then you need to install pip, and understand how to install packages with it.
  • On Jupyter's website, they show how to install the package using a few environment managers like conda or voilà.
  • Indeed you don't want to pollute your local environment. Also because ML-related packages are quite brittle when it comes to dependencies, you want an environment manager for your packages. It turns out there are a few out there and just figuring out which to use will take a you a while.

Environment managers

From a quick search you'll find out that there are three main environment managers: virtualenv, pipenv, conda. I've used virtualenv before and it's alright. Then pipenv is supposedly the newer alternative, which provides a slightly cleaner command line interface. Finally there's conda, which Jupyter mentions.

If you choose conda, you have the choice between mini conda and Anaconda. Anaconda comes preinstalled with a bunch of packages related to data science. See conda install page. To be honest, I'd rather have a clean slate to make sure I install only the packages I need, instead of downloading the internet, and not getting the latest packages.

When I transition into self-hosted Jupyter, I'll use pipenv.