Starting and customizing your Jupyter app

Allie Cliffe
  • Updated

Jupyter Notebooks run on virtual machines (VMs) or clusters of machines in your Jupyter Cloud Environment. You can adjust the configuration of your Jupyter app to fit your computational needs.  This article gives step-by-step instructions for customizing your Jupyter Cloud Environment virtual machine, installed software, and storage (i.e., Persistent Disk).

Launch a Jupyter Cloud Environment virtual machine (VM)

Follow the step-by-step instructions below.

1. Start in the Analyses tab of your workspace.

2. Click the cloud icon in the right sidebar

Screenshot showing how to launch a cloud environment in a Terra workspace. The button with a cloud icon is highlighted with an orange box and an orange arrow.

3. In the Cloud Environment Details pane, click the gear icon (Settings) under the Jupyter logo. This will surface the Jupyter Cloud Environment default pane (below).

Screenshot showing how to open the cloud environment settings menu. An orange box and an orange arrow highlight the settings menu, which is marked with a gear icon.

4. Click the Create button to start a Jupyter Cloud Environment with the default settings.

Screenshot showing how to create a cloud environment. An orange box and an orange arrow highlight the 'create' button.

Once you click Create, it will take a few minutes for the Jupyter Cloud Environment to start.

You can also get to the (Jupyter) Cloud Environment pane by clicking the notebook name, then clicking the 'open' button with the rocket icon.

How to customize your Jupyter Cloud Environment

If the default or project-specific environments don't fit your needs, you can customize many aspects of your Jupyter app in Terra:

  • VM size, type, and location (compute profile)
  • Software (application configuration)
  • Size and region of dedicated storage (persistent disk)

You'll specify what you want in the Cloud Environment customization pane (steps below) and let Terra recreate your cloud environment with the new specifications. Scroll down for more details about each customization option.

When can you change your Jupyter app? You can modify your Jupyter Cloud Environment at any time, even if you've already started working in a notebook. See Updating your Jupyter app in real tine without losing data (below). 

Most updates that involve increasing Cloud Environment resources will preserve any previous work. This is why we recommend starting with the minimum resources you think you need and scaling up if it's not enough. 

Step 1: Access the Jupyter Cloud Environment customization form

1.1. To view and customize your cloud environment's settings, open the Jupyter Cloud Environment pane (steps above):

Screenshot showing the Jupyter cloud environment configuration menu.

If you haven't yet created or customized a cloud environment, you will see the defaults in the pane. It's much simpler to adjust your cloud environment in Terra than through the equivalent Google Cloud interface!


Step 2. Choose the software (application configuration) 

You can customize your cloud environment using several preconfigured application configurations, which are available in the "application configuration" drop-down menu. You will find included versions and libraries in each preconfigured option by clicking the "What’s installed on this environment?" link below the dropdown. If none of these preconfigured options meets your needs, you also have the option of setting up a completely customized environment.

Why use a preconfigured application configuration? 

Using the same software application configurations ensures everyone has the same computational environment and gets the same results (when inputting the same data and using the same analysis tools, of course!). The software application configurations in the dropdown are curated and up to date, so if you can use one, it's an easy way to keep collaborators on the same page.

Categories of preconfigured application configurations

  • Terra-maintained Jupyter environments
  • Community-maintained Jupyter environments (from verified partners)

Customizing your installed software and packages

If one of the preconfigured application options doesn't meet your needs, you can make your own custom application configuration (i.e., preinstall software and dependencies in the VM) with a Docker image or startup script

Why use a custom Docker or startup script to install software and dependencies?If your analysis requires software packages that are not part of the default or preconfigured configurations, you could start your interactive application by installing the ones you need on the Persistent Disk. However, this approach can turn into a maintenance headache if you have multiple notebooks that require the same configuration commands.  Besides, it's much harder to make sure all collaborators working on the same project (each with their own Jupyter Cloud Environment) have the same software and dependencies. 

See Standardizing a custom RStudio or Jupyter Cloud Environment for more details and step-by-step instructions.

Step 3. Adjust the compute power

Continuing down the Jupyter Cloud Environment configuration form, you'll see options for setting up the compute power of your virtual machine. Default values are adequate for many typical analyses. If the defaults are not adequate for your needs, you can select a custom compute, where you can specify the primary CPUs, memory, disk sizes, and type and location you need. You can spin up a Spark cluster of parallel machines, and specify the number of secondary machines as well as their CPUs, memory, and disk sizes.

To configure a custom compute power, follow the steps below.

3.1. In the Cloud Compute Profile section of the form, choose the specification of your primary machine.

Single machine example custom compute

  • CPUs: 8
  • Memory (GB): 30
  • Disk size (GB): 100

If you only want one virtual machine and no other customizations, you're done!

Spark VM instructions

3.2. To configure as a Spark cluster (for parallel processing), first select Spark cluster from the Compute type list.
Screenshot showing how to select a spark cluster from the compute type drop-down menu. The spark cluster option is highlighted with an orange box.

3.3. Fill in the values for the Worker config.

Spark cluster example compute values

  • Workers: 120
  • Preemptibles: 100
  • CPUs: 4
  • Memory (GB): 15
  • Disk size (GB): 500

Finding the VM cost 

The cost of the requested compute power will be displayed in a blue section at the top of the form. For example, when requesting a Spark cluster, your screen will look something like this:
Screenshot showing how to estimate the cost of your customized cloud environment.

Cost-saving recommendationsSize your compute power appropriately
You pay a fixed amount while a notebook is running, whether or not you are doing active calculations. (Note: Terra automatically pauses a notebook after 30 minutes of inactivity).The cost is based on the compute power of your virtual machine or cluster, not how much computation is being done. So choose enough power to do your computations in a reasonable amount of time, but not excessive power that you pay for and don't use. 

Start small and scale up
Generally, you don't lose data if you increase your cloud environment's resources (e.g, CPUs or disk sizes), so it's best to start small and increase as needed. 

To learn more about controlling cloud costs in a notebook, see Controlling cloud costs - sample use cases.

Step 4 (Optional): Other Cloud Environment customizations

Below are a number of additional customizations you can make to your Jupyter Cloud Environment. 


Terra supports the use of graphics processing units (GPUs) - special processing units optimized for linear algebra computations, such as matrix multiplication - when using Jupyter Notebook Cloud Environments. To learn more, see Getting started with GPUs in a Jupyter Cloud Environment.

Autopause period

Jupyter Cloud Environments will automatically pause when there is no web browser or kernel activity for 30 minutes. To learn more about how autopause on Terra works by default - and how and why you can manually override the default settings - see Preventing runaway costs with Cloud Environment autopause

VM location (Google Cloud region)

Your Cloud Environment VM will default to the workspace bucket region, but you can choose a different location in the configuration pane. To learn more, see Customizing where your data are stored and analyzed.

Note: If you change the location, you may incur egress charges if your bucket location and interactive analysis Cloud Environment location are different.

Persistent Disk size and type

If the default Persistent Disk is too large (and you don't want to pay for the extra space) or too small (and you need more), you can adjust the size in the Jupyter Cloud Environment setup form.

You can also choose between a standard or solid state disk (SSD). SSDs cost more, but are faster to process data. The increased speed may be worth the cost. See Detachable persistent disks to learn more about detachable persistent disks for notebook applications in Terra.

Step 5. Save and re-create your Cloud Environment

Don't forget to update the configuration after changing any values. This will re-create the application compute with the new values, which can take up to ten minutes. 

You can further customize using a Docker image or startup script to standardize the environment you need. It's like having your own preconfigured environment instead of just those in the dropdown. See detailed instructions in Standardizing a custom RStudio or Jupyter environment.

It's not necessary to guess what resources you're going to need up-front. You can start with minimal settings, then dial them up if you run into limitations. 

Jupyter Cloud Environment considerationsChanging the Cloud Environment can mean files generated or stored in the application memory will be lost when Terra re-creates the Cloud Environment. To avoid this, make sure to:

- Keep your Persistent Disk when you update your cloud environment (the default setting)
- Only update your cloud environment to increase resources
- Copy all valuable files to Workspace storage (Google bucket)

Updating your Jupyter VM in real time (without losing data)

Your Jupyter Cloud Environment comes with storage (persistent disk, or PD) that is kept by default when you delete or re-create the Cloud Environment. As long as you don't choose to delete your PD storage, there are many changes you can make - even while your Jupyter Cloud Environment is running or if you transition to working in RStudio - without worrying about losing data.

Changes that don't put data at risk

Below are all changes you can make to the virtual environment where your notebook or RStudio analysis runs without losing data stored in the PD: 

  • Increase or decrease the # of CPUs or VM memory
    During this update, the Notebook will pause the cloud environment, update, and then restart. The update will take a couple of minutes to complete, and you cannot edit or run the Notebook while it completes.
  • Increase the disk size (note that decreasing the disk size can result in lost data)
  • Change the number of workers (when running a Spark cluster and the number of workers is > 2)
    During this update, you can continue to work in your notebook without pausing your cloud environment. When the update is finished, you will see a confirmation banner. 

Cloud Environment changes that can cause you to lose work      - Decreasing the Persistent Disk size
     - Deleting the Persistent Disk (when re-creating or deleting the Cloud Environment)

Note: This applies to any kind of interactive analysis you run, including RStudio, Jupyter Notebooks, or Galaxy. Please back up files as appropriate.

Changing BOTH CPU/memory and number of workers (Spark VM)

Note: If you want to modify both the workers and CPU/memory, we advise doing this sequentially. 

1. First, update the CPUs/memory.

2. Wait for the Notebook Cloud Environment to restart.

3. Then adjust the workers.

Additional resources: To learn more about your workspace Cloud Environment storage, see Detachable Persistent Disks

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