Sandbox Testing in the Cloud

Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data | 10/31/2011 | 9 comments

Mary E. Shacklett
Testing and quality assurance are two of the least emphasized areas in corporate IT, but without appropriate attention to it, applications, systems, and the business face enormous risk of failure. Nevertheless, organizations continue to create, use, and tear down testing environments for applications and full integration tests in much the same way as they did 20 years ago. They use homegrown tools or sets of commercial tools that are mixed and matched depending on the application. They allocate partitions on physical or virtual servers, which they populate with operating systems, databases, middleware, and any other relevant assets that an application touches. This, of course, consumes processing power, disk space, energy, and IT staff time.

To get around this resource-hungry, conventional testing methodology, take advantage of some new approaches to testing, like sandboxing and testing “resource rentals” in the cloud.

A number of cloud service providers offer provisioning of on-demand system and application testing environments. Using these services can be more efficient and cost-effective than using on-site resources. When cloud provisioning for application development and testing combines with commercially available sandbox technology, IT can further improve its testing environment and its expense ratio.

The principle behind the sandbox is much the same as it is for traditional testing with dedicated resources: It is isolated from production and other testing and staging activity. In this reserved environment, you perform testing or even application prototyping without the risk of introducing adverse results from the testing into a live network, system, database, application, or other technology resource. The sandbox provides a tightly controlled set of resources for testable applications to run in, along with disk and memory resources. Advancements in virtualization and operating systems test toolkits allow for sites to quickly create instances of operating system environments that the applications being tested can use.

In a sandbox test environment, virtual machines can emulate a complete host computer, on which a conventional operating system may boot and run as on actual hardware. If the test is for security, you can create an environment that emulates corporate desktop computers, evaluating how malware could infect and compromise a target host. Sandboxes can even be set up for users to test a small portion of code with a graphical user interface (GUI), to see if a certain navigation or drilldown concept can be applied to a broader set of applications.

What makes sandbox testing even more exciting is the fact that IT is not limited to a specific platform or operating system. There are both closed-source and open-source sandbox toolkits available. They cover virtually every operating system. The most advanced ones even come with automated self-checking, which ensures that any test operating environment IT creates remains compatible with the native operating system environment the application being tested will use in production.

Now let’s return to the cloud and the sandbox combination. The value proposition here for businesses is that they can purchase sandbox (or even conventional) provisioning of physical, virtual, networking, software, and other resources at a subscription or pay-per-use rate from a third-party provider. Some cloud providers appearing on the scene can deliver the kind of industrial-strength security and governance that corporate IT expects from its own datacenters.

The benefit of having the cloud as a potential sandbox resource is that it can eliminate the need to pay for extra hardware (or software licensing) in order to support testing and application development.

How do sites use the cloud? They perform their application development and testing (either of a sandbox or a traditional variety) in the cloud. When the application is ready to move to production, they migrate it over to computers in their own datacenters, where it operates under the corporate roof.

This kind of reliable, inexpensive testing can save you a lot of pain and hassle later. You can save money, time, and resources over traditional testing and still catch the disasters waiting to happen.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Mary E. Shacklett   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/3/2011 4:02:45 PM
Re: Your sandbox?
Hi ksharon,

This is where vendor security comes in.

If it can't meet your internal standards, you have no business placing  apps out there.

User Ranking: Blogger
kstaron   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/3/2011 2:52:11 PM
Your sandbox?
I think i have agree with SaneIT.  In order to replicate a test environment you have to put up sensitive data. most oftem compnaies are not willing to play that kind of numbers game with data that could deliver social security numbers, account numbers, and intellectual property data sensitive to thier business off to others and hope for the best. What happens when someone else picks you yout toy out of the sandbox?
CurtisFranklin   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/2/2011 1:39:32 PM
Re: Sandbox Testing in the Cloud
@SaneIT, I get that, but I find it interesting that we are willing to trust so many critical pieces of our business to others. We trust our cash to banks (organizations that have, as a group, a rocky history), we trust transport of critical documents and goods to various shippers (with insurance, yes, but also varying reputations for reliability), and we often trust our staffing and HR functions to third-party service providers. In each of these cases we are willing to establish trust relationships and allow the external party with the keys to one or another part of our house.

Cloud computing seems to be a special case, and I suppose I'm just having trouble figuring out why the very name seems to elicit such a visceral response in so many people. Time-share computing (which is, essentially, cloud computing with leased lines rather than the Internet as a transport mechanism) has been around for almost 50 years, and has been used by most major companies without serious problems. Change the transport method and it seems that the entire relationship is re-defined. Why do you think that is?
SaneIT   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/2/2011 9:28:28 AM
Re: Sandbox Testing in the Cloud
@CurtisFranklin, I think the problem is that from a corporate sense it's like handing out keys to our house to everyone in your neighborhood and trusting that they are good people.  You can check out a company before trusting them with your data but there is a big leap of faith when it comes down to handing sensitive data over to anyone.
CurtisFranklin   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/1/2011 11:05:28 PM
Re: Sandbox Testing in the Cloud
@SaneIT, you and @Hospice_Hangbou asked variations on the same question: Can you trust your cloud provider? It seems interesting to me that this remains the most frequently verbalized question about cloud computing after several years of security development and a track record that's prett good on security. There's just something about the concept that people are still not trusting...
CurtisFranklin   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/1/2011 11:03:26 PM
Re: Cloud sandbox
@Hospice_Houngbo, management ease is a good question. Another one I'd have is the extent to which we can be sure that the surrounding infrastructure accurately mimcs the enterprise infrastructure in which the application will be run. For gross initial testing it's not as critical, but the closer one gets to a "real" application the more the interaction between the server code and the services surrounding the server will matter.

I'm intrigued, but still have questions...
SaneIT   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/1/2011 8:13:53 AM
Re: Sandbox Testing in the Cloud

I have one minor problem with a sandbox in the cloud. Typically I see sandboxes setup to be less secure than a production environment at first so you can work the bugs out and tighten up as needed so that the tricky parts can be hashed out without holding up the entire project.  This practice will probably have to end or you'll have to be very aware of the fact and keep security in mind from the beginning or you'll have to make sure your sandbox only holds garbage data and nothing proprietary.

Gigi   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   11/1/2011 4:34:04 AM
Re: Cloud sandbox
Any product or services, which are going to public IP has to undergo the vulnerability test. Vulnerability tests are very important like authentication and authorization tests. It makes sure that your product can withstand all sorts of hacking and other illegal way of accessing.
Hospice_Houngbo   Sandbox Testing in the Cloud   10/31/2011 12:05:39 PM
Cloud sandbox
With cloud sandbox companies can indeed save time and money as they will not have to wait weeks to build an in-house development and testing environment. I'm wondering though whether managing an a cloud sandbox is as easy as managing an in-house sandbox. What actions are taking to avoid that the new software will not end-up in the hands of a third party before its official launch?

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