June 25, 2023

Why Every SaaS Provider Needs a Sandbox Environment

Why Every SaaS Provider Needs a Sandbox Environment

Building a powerful SaaS platform is essential for any business looking to scale. However, offering a flawless user experience can be challenging without a sandbox environment for experimentation and testing. A sandbox gives you the following:

  • Staging for new features - developers can test features before releasing them to the live app. This reduces production bugs and outages.
  • User testing - recruit testers to give feedback on new workflows and features in development.
  • Training ground - onboard new users, educate clients, and train employees on the latest updates.
  • Isolation - make drastic changes without affecting live data or performance.
  • Analytics testing - A/B tests, funnel tests, and experiments that don’t impact real users.

New features often go straight to production without a sandbox, meaning bugs and issues affect paying customers. A sandbox prevents this by giving you a safe, isolated zone to experiment and practice before changes go live.

In this blog post, we’ll explore why every SaaS provider needs a sandbox environment and discuss the benefits it can bring to your business.

Whether you’re just starting or an established provider, a sandbox environment can help you improve your software development process and provide a better experience for your customers.

Why every SaaS needs two environments

The two environments any SaaS company needs are production and sandbox.

Production is your live app where real customers use the software, and it should always remain stable. Any changes here must go through rigorous testing beforehand.

A sandbox environment, an isolated production copy, allows developers to experiment, test changes, and practice deploying updates before pushing them to production.

For SaaS companies, having two separate environments is non-negotiable. Without a sandbox:

  • Every change goes straight to your live app, impacting customers. Even minor tweaks may introduce bugs or downtime.
  • There’s no isolated zone for changes you’re not sure will work. Every experiment affects real users.
  • You can’t practice deployments or test configuration changes without disrupting the live app.
  • Developers and testers trip over each other when accessing the same production environment.
  • Training and onboarding new users require access to the live app, risking inadvertent changes.

Having both environments eliminates these issues by:

  • Allowing risky or disruptive changes in an isolated copy of production.
  • Giving teams a place to practice deployments, configurations, and experiments safely.
  • Preventing production downtime and bugs by vetting changes in the sandbox first.
  • Allowing multiple teams concurrent access without affecting one another.
  • Providing an isolated training ground for new users, free from production constraints.

In summary, a sandbox environment replicates the complexity of your live app in an isolated space, enabling experimentation and change without consequences. A production and sandbox environment is essential for services that must remain available and performant for paying customers.

Benefits of a sandbox for experimenting with new features

Here are the benefits of a SaaS sandbox environment:

  • Test major feature changes before pushing to production
  • Reduce the number of bugs and outages that impact customers
  • Solve issues that only appear at scale before real deployment
  • Roll back changes easily instead of troubleshooting in production

Stress test features under heavy load

  • Replicate production traffic to uncover bottlenecks and sub-optimal performance
  • Optimize database queries before real-world use
  • Experiment with caching strategies safely

Experiment with new workflows and flows

  • Create A/B tests for major UI changes
  • See how new features and navigation impact key metrics
  • Tweak the copy and micro-interactions before the launch

Practice deployments and configurations changes

  • Run through the full deployment process for new releases
  • Test configuration tweaks for optimal performance
  • Debug edge cases that only appear during the rollout
  • Improve deployment speed and minimizes downtime

In summary, a sandbox gives you a safe place to test new features, optimize performance, experiment with changes, and practice deployments - all before pushing updates to the live application. This significantly reduces the risk of downtime, outages, and bugs impacting customers after real deployments.

Using a sandbox for early user testing

Early user testing is vital for any SaaS product, allowing you to catch issues before launching to all customers. Conducting this testing in a sandbox offers key benefits:

  • Insulated from production issues: Participants test in a controlled environment where problems won’t affect the live app.
  • Scale testing: You can invite many testers to try out a new feature simultaneously, simulating real usage before launch.
  • Freedom to change: Based on tester feedback, you can iteratively tweak and improve the feature within the sandbox before pushing it to production.
  • Catch showstoppers early: User testing reveals major bugs, confusion points, and usability issues that you can fix before launch.
  • Reduce customer support issues: Uncovering and fixing issues before launch minimizes post-launch support questions and frustration.

Use cases for sandbox user testing include:

  • New feature testing - Invite beta users or existing customers to test drive a prototype in the sandbox. Collect feedback to improve before releasing it to all.
  • Onboarding flows - Test your sign-up and initial user flow to see where new users get confused or overwhelmed. Make changes based on tester feedback before launch.
  • Workflow changes - Test any updates to how users complete core tasks in your app. Invite power users for early reactions that surface potential pitfalls.
  • Design experiments - A/B tests different UI variations to see which performs best with real users. Run multiple experiments concurrently in your sandbox.
  • Training scenarios - Walk new hires or clients through your software using the sandbox, integrating their feedback to improve onboarding materials.

In summary, a sandbox allows you to invite small groups of testers to try out new features in a safe, isolated environment. This early feedback helps identify and correct issues that might go undiscovered until after a full product launch, avoiding negative consequences for your business and reputation. With a sandbox, early user testing becomes an integral part of your development process.

Sandbox for training and classroom scenarios

A sandbox environment lets you train users, educate clients, and conduct classroom scenarios without impacting your live application.

Here are some training and education use cases for a sandbox:

  • Onboard new hires: Give all new employees access to replicate your production environment. Walk them through key features and workflows before granting them live access.
  • Client education: Show demo clients or prospects a copy of your software. Explain features, capabilities, and limitations and answer questions in a safe environment.
  • Classroom training: Create training materials walking users through tasks and scenarios in your sandbox copy. Trainees get hands-on practice without access to live data.
  • Release prep: Before launching an update, you can educate clients and train employees in the sandbox. They get used to the changes before affecting production.
  • Simulate usage: Set up training scenarios in your sandbox to mimic real-world situations. Show users how to handle edge cases and troubleshoot issues.
  • Isolate data: Share datasets for training without exposing live customer data. Limit trainees to specific sample data sets.

The isolation of a sandbox environment is key for education and training use cases:

  • Data is protected: Trainees only access sample or test data, not real customer information.
  • Changes are safe: Users can’t accidentally impact the live application while practicing. Any mistakes are contained.
  • Performance is irrelevant: The sandbox does not need to meet uptime or performance SLAs, enabling more flexibility for training.
  • Resource-intensive actions are allowed: The sandbox can support training scenarios that consume excessive resources, like load testing.

In summary, a sandbox allows you to educate prospects, onboard employees, and conduct training scenarios in an isolated copy of your production application. Trainees gain hands-on experience executing real tasks - albeit on test data - without affecting the live environment. The isolation of the sandbox ensures changes, actions, and data exposure remain contained, protecting your live SaaS offering while enabling useful training and education opportunities.

Isolation: allowing disruptive changes safely

You want to make drastic changes or consume excessive resources for some development and testing needs - things you’d never do in production. The isolation of a sandbox environment makes this possible.

Use cases for disruptive sandbox changes include:

  • Heavy load testing: Subject your app to massive amounts of simulated traffic to stress test features, APIs, and databases. Production SLA requirements would never allow this.
  • Resource-intensive actions: Run computationally expensive processes like large data exports, model training, or batch jobs. Production performance would suffer.
  • Destructive changes: Make changes that risk corrupting or deleting data, like schema or codebase refactors. Not possible in the live application.
  • Unsupported software: Try out beta or experimental software and plugins not suitable for paying customers yet. Isolate to your sandbox.
  • Aggressive caching: Experiment with more aggressive caching strategies. If it fails, you haven’t impacted the live app.
  • Unrefined features: Release features to early testers that are not yet polished enough for all users. Limit to the sandbox.

The isolation of a sandbox enables these types of disruptive changes by:

  • Containing any negative impacts: Bugs, outages, and other issues won’t affect the live application or real users.
  • Preventing data loss: Since the sandbox has isolated datasets, no customer data is at risk from experiments.
  • Avoiding performance degradation: Production performance SLAs do not apply to the sandbox, allowing resource-heavy tasks.
  • Permitting more flexibility: You can experiment with software, configs, and processes that would be too risky for production.

In summary, a sandbox environment gives you a safe zone to make disruptive changes, consume excessive resources, and experiment with untested or unsupported techniques. The isolation of the sandbox ensures these high-risk actions cannot negatively impact the live application, users, or data. This makes the sandbox invaluable for troubleshooting, refinement, and testing purposes beyond what’s reasonable in production.

Testing analytics and dashboards

Many SaaS platforms offer analytics and reporting dashboards to their customers. A sandbox environment is essential for thoroughly testing these features before releasing them to production users.

Use cases for testing analytics in a sandbox include:

  • Configuration testing: Ensure default and customizable dashboard and report configurations work as intended. Catch incorrect aggregations, sorts, and filters.
  • Data context: Generate realistic test data sets that mimic your data distribution and properties. Use this to test reports in context.
  • Edge case testing: Create specialized test data with edge scenarios to uncover issues with your analytics.
  • Performance testing: Subject dashboards and reports to massive amounts of simulated data and traffic. Optimize performance before releasing it to customers.
  • A/B testing: Run multiple experimentation iterations within your sandbox. Test different visualizations, sorts, and filters. Release the winner to production.
  • Regression testing: After making changes to your analytics, re-run all test scenarios to ensure no existing functionality was broken.
  • Alert testing: Make sure notifications, alerts, and triggers based on your analytics are firing as expected and with the correct data.
  • Access controls: Test your role-based access and data segmentation configurations for analytics and reports.

The sandbox enables thorough analytics testing by:

  • Using realistic test data: you can generate any datasets needed to simulate real usage.
  • Allowing performance testing at scale: With enough resources allocated to your sandbox.
  • Performing multiple iterations: Since you’re not affecting production, you can run multiple experiments.
  • Catching issues early: Ensuring reports and dashboards work as expected before customers see them.

In summary, a sandbox is critical for vetting your SaaS platform’s analytics and reporting features. By generating realistic test datasets and subjecting dashboards to scaled usage, your sandbox enables performance testing, data and edge case testing, experimentation, and regression testing that ensures your analytics insights work properly for customers. Bugs and bottlenecks caught in the sandbox prevent frustrating issues for your live users.

Optimizing costs with a separate staging environment

For many SaaS businesses, maintaining production and sandbox environments can impact costs. However, there are ways to optimize expenses while still providing safe experimental and testing spaces:

Utilize serverless computing

  • Serverless offerings like AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, and Azure Functions provide pay-per-use compute resources.
  • Your staging/sandbox environment can utilize these services to only pay for the compute needed when in active use.
  • Serverless is well-suited for simulations, tests, and experiments intermittently outside production hours.

Downsize resources outside peak times

  • Depending on your workload, scale down the resources allocated to your staging environment when not in active use.
  • For example, reduce the number of servers, containers, or compute instances - then scale back up for testing periods.
  • Automate this scaling based on schedules or triggers to minimize costs while idle.

Isolate workloads

  • Separate your production databases, queues, and caches from those in your sandbox.
  • Dedicate compute, storage, and network resources specifically for non-production use.
  • This ensures staging workloads do not interfere with or consume customer resources.

Leverage the cloud

  • Move your staging environment to the cloud, where you only pay for consumed resources.
  • Cloud providers offer pay-per-use pricing models that match your staging workload.
  • With the ability to rapidly scale resources up and down, the cloud optimizes costs for intermittent use cases like staging and testing.

In summary, there are many techniques to optimize the cost of maintaining a separate non-production environment while still giving your development and QA teams the resources needed. Serverless computing, downsizing resources outside of active use, workload isolation, and public cloud providers all offer approaches to minimizing expenses around staging and sandbox infrastructure - while providing the isolation, flexibility, and experimentation needed.

Sandbox best practices

To get the most value from your sandbox environment, follow these best practices:

  • Match production configs: Replicate your production environment’s hardware, software stack, and configurations as close as possible. This ensures tests and experiments are realistic.
  • Isolate databases: Use separate databases for sandbox and production. This prevents test data from contaminating real customer data.
  • Isolate deployments: Deploy sandbox and production apps independently. Prevent sandbox updates from accidentally impacting the live application.
  • Schedule resets: Periodically reset the sandbox environment to a “clean” state. This removes built-up test data and configs for fresh experimentation.
  • Limit access: Only provide sandbox access to roles that require it. Prevent unauthorized personnel from viewing test data or making changes.
  • Limit data: Only provision sandbox databases and storage with the minimum data needed for testing. Protects real customer information.
  • Automate: Leverage tools that can automatically provision and re-provision your sandbox environment. This streamlines the setup and tears down of tests.
  • Document changes: Keep a change log of all updates made to the sandbox so iterations are traceable. Roll back changes when needed.
  • Separate resources: Ensure compute, storage, and network resources are separated for sandbox and production deployments. Isolate workloads.
  • Track errors: Log and track any issues or errors within your sandbox. Review logs after testing to ensure no major concerns remain.
  • Resource scheduling: Automatically scale resources up or down based on known sandbox usage schedules. Optimizes costs when idle.
  • Leverage QA team: Give product, design, and QA teams full access to the sandbox for vetting features before releasing them to all users.

Adhering to these sandbox best practices ensure your non-production environment is properly isolated, secure, and optimized for experimentation and testing. This maximizes the value of your sandbox while protecting the security, performance, and stability of your production application.

Common sandbox pitfalls to avoid

While sandboxes offer immense benefits, there are some common traps to avoid:

  • Overprovisioning resources: It’s easy to allocate excess compute, storage, and database resources “just in case.” But this wastes money when the sandbox sits idle.
  • Inconsistent configs: Tests are unrealistic when the sandbox does not properly match production configurations. This can cause surprises when changes go live.
  • Broken access controls: Privileged access to the sandbox can spread without proper controls. This risks exposure to test data and unintended changes.
  • Undocumented changes: Failing to keep a change log of sandbox updates makes it hard to trace iterations and roll back changes.
  • Contaminated data: When test data accidentally makes it into production databases, it corrupts real user information. Strict data isolation is key.
  • Undetected issues: If you do not properly log and review errors that occur in the sandbox, potential bugs may go unnoticed until production.
  • Unauthorized access: Credits can spread to unauthorized personnel without limiting and monitoring access.
  • Unused resources: When developers fail to tear down experiments and tests in the sandbox, computing is wasted. Automate teardown.
  • Underestimating scope: An oversimplified sandbox may be insufficient for full testing, leading to production issues. Scope appropriately.
  • Infrequent resets: Allowing test data and configurations to build up in the sandbox over time reduces its usefulness for new iterations. Reset regularly.

To avoid these issues:

  • Optimize resources by automatically scaling based on known usage patterns.
  • Triple-check configurations match production before testing.
  • Enforce role-based access controls and monitor all access.
  • Require change logs and automatic documentation of sandbox updates.
  • Strictly isolate all data and deployments between environments.
  • Thoroughly review all sandbox logs and error reports.
  • Automate teardown of tests to reclaim resources.
  • Periodically reset the sandbox to a “clean” baseline state.
  • Scope your sandbox environment to fully accommodate all necessary testing.

By identifying and avoiding these common challenges, you can maximize the effectiveness of your sandbox environment and ensure it truly serves the purpose of safe experimentation and robust testing of any changes before deployment to production.

Setting up your first SaaS sandbox environment

Standing up in a sandbox can feel daunting, but these steps will get you started:

  1. Scope your requirements: Determine what level of realism, resources, and functionality your sandbox needs based on your intended use cases.
  2. Configure access control: Set up role-based access on your staging environment before provisioning it. Limit access to those who truly require it.
  3. Map hardware and OS configs: Replicate the servers, RAM, disk space, and operating system of your production environment for your sandbox.
  4. Duplicate software stack: Install the same versions of languages, databases, web servers, libraries, and other software powering your production application.
  5. Provision of isolated resources: Stand up separate compute, storage, network, and database instances for sandbox and production workloads.
  6. Create test datasets: Generate realistic sample data sets that mimic your actual data distribution for testing purposes.
  7. Document the sandbox: Create specs, tutorials, and guides to onboard new users of the sandbox environment and track updates over time.
  8. Test the sandbox: Run initial tests ensuring the environment is properly provisioned and allows intended test scenarios before granting additional access.
  9. Create a reset procedure: Establish a standardized process and scripts for wiping the sandbox environment and restoring it to a “clean” baseline state.
  10. Automate teardown: Build automation to reclaim any sandbox resources after a set time of inactivity. This prevents wasted costs when tests are complete.

Once your sandbox is up, run initial tests to ensure it adequately meets requirements, then roll out access incrementally based on need. Monitor usage logs, error reports, and user feedback to determine if your sandbox needs to scale resources, reset more frequently, or undergo any updates.

Over time, iterate on your sandbox environment based on how your real-world testing needs evolve. But this initial scaffolding will get you started providing a safe space for experimentation that accurately mirrors your production application. From there, optimize your sandbox to maximize value while minimizing costs.

The importance of product demo software

Product demo software gives you an easy way to showcase your sandbox environment to prospects, clients, and trainees. Some benefits include:

  • Interactive product tours - Walk users through your software in a guided, click-by-click demo. This helps users understand features and how they work together.
  • AI-powered explanations - Explain complex features and concepts using artificial intelligence. This helps users gain a deeper understanding and make connections.
  • Protocol delivery - Ensure demos follow a consistent, proven structure that leads to conversions and higher win rates.
  • Live collaboration - Let users control the demo and ask questions in real-time. This engages users and tailors the demo to their specific needs.
  • Automated delivery - Schedule and send demos to multiple recipients at once. This scales your demo capabilities without overtaxing resources.

By incorporating demo software into your sandbox workflows, you can educate more prospects, train teams more effectively, and generate more revenue from your software - all while maintaining isolation from your production environment.

Demo software gives you an interactive yet secure way to showcase your sandbox and gain insights that help improve your overall product. It’s a powerful addition to any SaaS provider’s toolkit.

FAQs Regarding Sandbox Environment

Why every SaaS needs two environments?

Having two environments (production and Sandbox) allows SaaS providers to test new features and updates in a controlled environment before releasing them to users.

What are the benefits of a sandbox for experimenting with new features?

A sandbox environment allows SaaS providers to experiment with new features without risking the stability of their production environment. This can lead to more innovation and better user experiences.

Why should you use a sandbox for early user testing?

A sandbox environment for early user testing allows SaaS providers to gather user feedback without impacting their production environment. This can lead to better product development and user satisfaction.

How to use Sandbox for training and classroom scenarios?

Sandbox environments can be used for training and classroom scenarios by providing a safe and controlled environment for users to learn and experiment with the software.

What is Sandbox Isolation?

Sandbox isolation refers to the practice of keeping the sandbox environment completely separate from the production environment to prevent any unintended impact on the production environment.

How can I use Sandbox for testing analytics and dashboards?

Sandbox environments can be used for testing analytics and dashboards by providing a controlled environment to test and refine data visualization and reporting features.

How can I use Sandbox to optimize costs with a separate staging environment?

Sandbox environments can be used for optimizing costs by providing a separate staging environment where SaaS providers can test and refine features before releasing them to production, reducing the risk of costly errors or bugs.

What are the Sandbox best practices?

Sandbox’s best practices include keeping the sandbox environment completely separate from the production environment, using realistic test data, and regularly refreshing it to ensure it stays up-to-date.

What are the common sandbox pitfalls to avoid?

Common sandbox pitfalls to avoid are: using outdated or unrealistic test data, failing to keep the sandbox environment separate from the production environment, and neglecting to regularly refresh the sandbox environment.

How to set up my first sandbox environment?

To set up a sandbox environment, SaaS providers should start by identifying the purpose of the Sandbox, selecting the appropriate tools and infrastructure, and establishing clear policies and procedures for its use.

How to use the Folio product demo tool for Sandbox environments?

Folio product demo tool can be used for Sandbox environments by providing a safe and controlled environment for users to learn and experiment with the software, allowing SaaS providers to showcase their products and features without risking the stability of their production environment.


In summary, a sandbox environment is an essential tool for any SaaS provider that wants to minimize risk, maximize uptime and offer the best possible user experience.

By giving your development and testing teams a safe, isolated zone to experiment freely, a sandbox lets you:

  • Test new features thoroughly before releasing them to all users
  • Catch bugs, usability issues, and potential problems early
  • Optimize performance under realistic conditions
  • Practice deployments and make disruptive changes safely
  • Conduct early user testing to surface issues proactively
  • Train employees and educate clients isolated from production
  • Test analytics and reporting features under realistic loads

With a properly configured and managed sandbox, you can significantly reduce the chances of bugs, outages, and other issues impacting your live application and paying customers. By replicating the complexity of your production environment in a controlled zone, a sandbox lets you “practice for real,” - minimizing risks before changes go live.

In the end, a sandbox environment exists to give your development and operations teams the tools they need to build the best possible product and user experience while protecting the stability, uptime, and performance of your live application at the same time. I hope this overview has effectively demonstrated a sandbox’s numerous benefits - and inspires you to implement one for your own SaaS platform!

Cover Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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