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The Vital Role of the Cloud Sandbox

Posted by Hans Ashlock December 15, 2015
The Vital Role of the Cloud Sandbox

The growing popularity of public cloud services, as well as the spread of DevOps automation cultures and platforms, has not only given IT organizations new tools to work with, but also - in many cases - changed their entire approaches to key practices such as software development, testing and deployment. Well-known hyperscale firms such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and others have become widely imitated models for such transformations.

These giants are capable of running production environments 24/7/365, with only tiny and usually seamless maintenance windows. While their broad technical expertise and custom infrastructures are generally beyond the reach of their smaller peers, it is still possible for other firms to emulate some of the things that have made them so successful as of late.

What the cloud sandbox brings to the table

One example here is the cloud sandbox, which can mimic on-premises and public cloud infrastructure. The sandbox term is apt: Like a literal sandbox, there are clear boundaries between it and the outside world. A cloud sandbox helps IT organizations more easily accomplish critical tasks during application devtest without disrupting production:

  • It can perform virtually all the same functions as a production environment.
  • At the same time, it is self-contained and as such does not interfere with that active production environment.
  • The cloud sandbox also provides infrastructures that look and feel the same as what is being used in the data center and in the cloud, creating continuity throughout the building and testing of an application and software.
  • Infrastructure environments can be accessed on-demand from a pool of shared IT resources, and then efficiently torn down and released back into the pool when tests are finished.
  • Sandboxes function alongside containers and other DevOps tools as part of devtest workflows within hybrid cloud environments.

"Sandboxes are self-contained infrastructure environments that can be configured to look exactly like the final target deployment environment, but created and run anywhere," QualiSystems CTO Joan Wrabetz explained in an article for Network Computing. "For example, developers can create a sandbox that looks like the production environment, from network and hardware to OS versions and software to cloud APIs. They do their development in that sandbox for a short period of time and when they are done, they tear down the sandbox."

A cloud sandbox is powerful in large part because it can be reconfigured on the fly to emulate whatever environment testers need to target. More specifically, it can be shifted from looking like the internal IT environment to resembling an external cloud, depending on what types of tests are being run at the moment.

"A cloud sandbox can be easily reconfigured on the fly."

It is also important to note that the use case presented by a cloud sandbox is not a one-time deploy but rather an ongoing cycle. In other words, the sandbox needs to be able to be accessed, used and released on an efficient schedule, in order to support a private or hybrid cloud. Failing to account for the cyclical use case means that the company cloud can quickly spiral out of control, becoming a huge cost center beset by virtual machine hoarding and bloat.

Why is a cloud sandbox needed today?

As we discussed at the outset here, IT organizations are in flux right now as more of them shift toward hybrid clouds and embrace DevOps automation tools and practices. The trend toward greater integration of cloud services is readily apparent:

  • IT research firm Gartner has estimated that in 2015, one-quarter of Global 2000 organizations will take up DevOps to help move new applications into production. This shift would increase the size of the DevOps tools market by more than 21 percent over 2014 levels, to around $2.3 billion.
  • The 2015 State of the Cloud Report from RightScale revealed that 82 percent of enterprises had a hybrid cloud strategy in place, up from "only" 74 percent the year before. Overall, 93 percent of the survey's subjects were using some form of cloud.
  • Moreover, RightScale found that there was still a lot of headroom for additional workloads in the cloud. Two-thirds of its respondents ran less than 20 percent of their application portfolios in the cloud.
  • DevOps, as well as specific tools such as Docker, have seen sharply increasing interest in recent years. RightScale's report determined that around 66 percent of organizations had adopted DevOps. Thirteen percent had taken up Docker, with another 35 percent planning to do so.
  • Amazon Web Services was the most popular public cloud option for the enterprise, being used by about 57 percent of them. Next in line was Microsoft Azure at 12 percent.

This growing affinity for both hybrid cloud and DevOps creates big challenges in areas such as integration and security. For instance, it is possible that teams will run into SaaS applications that sport APIs very different from what they are accustomed to. These APIs may expose only a portion of the full data model, without full create, read, update and delete (CRUD) capabilities. Rate-limiting is also common with SaaS APIs, as a way of controlling for high loads and poor performance.

Sandboxes ensure that these types of cloud scenarios and environments can be planned for. Plus, sandboxes can deliver services for many other kinds of infrastructure, too, including physical, legacy and virtual assets. Accordingly, cloud sandboxes are suitable for everything from validating new builds and verifying technical issues raised in support, to demoing technologies in specific environments and conducting tech-specific trainings.

QualiSystems CloudShell and cloud sandboxes

We can think of a cloud sandbox as a Swiss Army Knife for IT organizations. Its flexibility has even been put to work in vetting a network's resiliency in the face of a distributed denial-of-service attack. A private/hybrid cloud sandbox platform such as QualiSystems CloudShell unlocks the full range of sandbox possibilities and ensures a cyclical use case for sandboxes by providing features such as:

  • Centralized inventory management
  • Web-based self-service catalogs
  • Graphical environmental modeling and publishing
  • A scheduling/reservation system
  • Usability for non-programmers and programmers alike

CloudShell provides a comprehensive foundation for sandboxing in a world increasingly reliant on hybrid cloud and DevOps innovation. Contact us to learn more about CloudShell for easy cloud sandbox management and environment-as-a-service.

Cloud sandbox.The cloud sandbox is essential for testing a variety of conditions.

The takeaway: Cloud sandboxes are versatile things. They give teams the simulated environments that they need in order to model applications for a variety of settings, from internal systems to public cloud ecosystems such as Amazon Web Services. Moreover, they can facilitate easy demo clouds for sales and training teams. With DevOps and hybrid cloud continuing to pick up steam among IT organizations, it is more important than ever to have a reliable platform for managing cloud sandboxes and EaaS for all teams.

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