Software, Sandboxes And the Back Office

Sandbox: Another everyday noun that’s stepping out in different stripes, especially among Software People.

Here it is as a verb, from a recent batch of notes: “When you’re sandboxing, you’re allowing people to fail without killing anything.”

And as an adjective: “It’s more of a sandbox-y thing than a bag of tools.”

On the surface, the notion of a “software sandbox” is perhaps obvious. It’s a place where developers can try out their code, using the same raw resources as a production environment, but without causing anything in production to break.

Why the sandbox is of increasing importance in broadband technology circles is perhaps less obvious. To get your head around it, point toward open-source software as a staple in the transition to all-IP (Internet protocol) everything.

Let’s say we all agree that (A) it’s a software world now; and (B) next-generation competitors that grew up on broadband just move faster. Lastly, concede that OTT competitors move faster in part because they live on open-source software, which makes it easy for developers to try stuff out.

In other words, they sandbox.

Let’s further say we agree with the one about “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

So far, in the realm of what we used to call “cable,” most sandboxing happens at the intersection of “old” and “new” (also known as “now” and “next”), and especially with respect to back-office stuff. For instance, maybe you want to experiment with how people navigate video. One option: Build some kind of software-based emulator so developers can work within a semi-real environment.

Another option: Create a sandbox that links developers into the live elements of the back office that really do link to video navigation — the billing system, the conditional access/encryption components and the provisioning experience, as three of several examples. Developers can develop away without damaging anything that’s happening live, in the back office.

As for whether the software sandbox ever encounters gifts akin to what cats leave in sandboxes? In practice, developers usually get their own sandboxes, electronically cordoned off from anybody else writing code. Which is good, because there isn’t any actual sand.

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