Designing an AWS Sandbox Environment for Effective Development and Learning

Each organisation requires a sandbox environment for their teams, enabling them to innovate and test new services with minimal bureaucratic hurdles. Even in the less stringent development and test environments, there are still substantial security and compliance measures in place, impeding teams from conducting rapid trials in these settings. Thus, the requirement arises for sandbox environments that offer isolation and security while allowing for greater flexibility.

Designing an Effective AWS Sandbox

Isolation and Segmentation:

  • Separate AWS Account: Create a dedicated AWS account specifically for the sandbox environment. This ensures clear separation from critical resources and prevents accidental interactions.
  • Network Isolation: Use Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) to isolate the sandbox environment from other networks. Implement Network Access Control Lists (ACLs) and Security Groups to control inbound and outbound traffic.

Cost Management:

  • Budget Allocation: Set a budget for the sandbox to avoid unexpected costs. AWS Budgets and Cost Explorer can help in monitoring and managing expenses.
  • Resource Cleanup: Implement automated resource cleanup mechanisms. AWS CloudFormation, AWS Lambda, and scheduled scripts can be used to regularly delete unused resources. An AWS nuke pattern also helps automating the cleanup.

Access Control:

  • IAM Roles and Policies: Define Identity and Access Management (IAM) roles and policies to restrict access to only the necessary resources. Follow the principle of least privilege.
  • Enforce Limited Access: Implement controlled RDP and SSH access for SSM and Fleet Managers, and ensure access restrictions are applied to  Memory/Compute/Storage Optimised EC2 Instances.

Data Policy:

  • Sandbox Usage Policy: Define a Sandbox utilisation policy for users that explicitly prohibits any presence of scrambled or unscrambled corporate data within the account. Enable AWS Macie to detect any instances of sensitive or personally identifiable information (PII) data exposure.
  • Compliance Guidelines: Adhere to compliance regulations applicable to your industry even within the sandbox environment. Enable AWS Config and Config conformation packs to implement best practices. Enable AWS Guard Duty, Inspector, Security Hub and Detective for threat monitoring, vulnerability assessments and analysis of security issues respectively.

Resource Scaling:

  • Limit Scaling: Set upper limits on resource scaling for services like ECS Clusters, ALBs to prevent accidental overuse of resources that could lead to higher costs.
  • Resource Quotas: Utilise AWS Service Quotas to enforce resource limits for services like EC2 instances, S3 buckets, etc.

Security and Guardrails:

  • Alerts: Enable CloudTrail and EventBridge to oversee API requests and initiate notifications. Establish alert rules for the presence of VPC Peering or Transit Gateways. Consolidate CloudWatch logs and trails into monitoring accounts for comprehensive monitoring.
  • Service Control Policies: Setup separate SCPs for Sandbox accounts to restrict permissions such as access services in other regions, change config rules or network connectivity setup.

Benefits of an AWS Sandbox

  • Risk-Free Experimentation: An AWS sandbox provides a secure space for developers and learners in the organisation to experiment with new and existing AWS services and configurations without risking disruptions to critical applications.
  • Learning Platform: It serves as an excellent learning platform for newcomers to AWS, allowing them to gain hands-on experience with real AWS resources in a controlled manner.
  • Innovation and Prototyping: Developers can use the sandbox to quickly prototype new solutions and innovations without affecting production systems until they are confident in their implementation.


Designing an AWS sandbox requires thoughtful planning to strike a balance between providing a dynamic learning and experimentation environment while maintaining security and cost-efficiency. By implementing isolation, access controls, cost management strategies and compliance measures, organisations can foster innovation, skill development and safe experimentation within the AWS ecosystem. 

A well-designed AWS sandbox empowers individuals and teams to harness the full potential of AWS services while minimising risks to production systems.

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