The Pax8 Challenge: A Broken and Abandoned Demo Environment
Pax8 is a leading marketplace for technology professionals to buy, sell, and manage cloud solutions. Landing and onboarding new partners means walking them through the steps of using the marketplace with realistic products in its workflows. But given the proprietary nature of those products and their data, Pax8’s demo environment couldn’t rely on production data to showcase the platform. It required de-identified data that mirrored the look and feel of production, to accurately represent all of the scenarios that the marketplace handles—a requirement that was extremely hard to fulfill.
As Pax8 QA Manager and Technical Lead Michael Sounart described, “Provisioning de-identified data was a manual process. We had to sanitize prod with a bunch of SQL injections. But it simply wasn’t working.” It took inordinate amounts of time to locate all the sensitive data in their database, and on top of that, schema changes made the data hard to track, exacerbating the chore and leaving them vulnerable to the risk of data leaks.
The demo data was so difficult to maintain that no one was using the demo environments. In the words of Enablement Programs Manager Matty Woznick, “Nothing was functional.” This made training and onboarding a challenge, with a longer ramp time both for employees and for partners. “If reps can’t click through the processes in the platform, no one-pager, no watching someone else do it, no video is going to capture what’s needed,” said Woznick. The lack of data to train on prevented employees from experiencing and practicing the full functionality of their platform. “When you have proprietary software that you can't practice on, you won’t face certain situations until you’re onboarding customers. And that's the scariest moment when the most could potentially go wrong."
And when it came to demoing the platform to prospects, the experience was “embarrassing,” according to Pax8 sales managers. “You’d click into something and say, ‘Oh, it’s erroring out because it’s a demo platform, or I can’t show you this because it’s a demo platform,’” added Woznick. “One of our managers told me, ‘Everywhere I go it just seems like I’m showing prospects that we’re failing. We pitch this intuitive platform, Amazon-esque, easy to use, and we can’t even demo it.’” The situation was unsustainable. A better demo experience had to be found.
The Pax8 Solution: Safe, Realistic Demo Data Based on Production
After researching the landscape of potential solutions, Pax8 identified Tonic as the only technology that met their needs for realistic demo data generated based on production at database scale. Core differentiators that cemented Tonic as their choice included its support for multiple databases, automated schema change detection, and easy-to-use subsetting.
Product Manager Manny Caridé worked with the Pax8 DevOps team and with Tonic to implement Tonic in their environments and set up their data generation workflow for success. This collaboration unlocked another core differentiator of the Tonic experience: “The Tonic team is very responsive,” said Caridé. “We’ve all worked in tech for a while; we know how it works. How quick you all are to jump on a call or work with us on slack—with our backend developers, our QA team, our customer service team—that level of support is excellent on the market.”
And then, Sounart added, “Once you get Tonic tailored to your needs, it just works on its own. There’s not a lot of support needed for it. Every night, Tonic automatically runs a data generation job and deploys it with no downtime.” Pax8 uses a copy of their production data as their source, then shapes the data in Tonic to get what they need, truncating tables that aren’t relevant and applying privacy-preserving transformations to the rest, to hydrate their demo environment with safe, useful data that is always up-to-date with production.
“Subsetting was a huge factor,” Sounart said. “We don’t always need to recreate our full demo environment of 250 gigabytes. Sometimes all we need is a mini sandbox environment for QA. Subsetting allows us to make a working version of that with only 20 gigabytes of data, keeping all of the products in the environment and maintaining schema changes as they come through." These smaller datasets owe their success to the ease of navigating primary and foreign keys in Tonic and the convenience of visualizing how dependencies are traversed in the subsetter’s Graph View.
The second the demo environment started working, with useful, safe data in place, and demo users were able to place realistic orders, that’s when Pax8 knew they were on track to providing employees and partners with what they needed to train on and make the best use of the platform.
The Pax8 Results: Accelerated Sales Training, Partner Onboarding, and Customer Debugging
Data that used to take days or weeks to manually source is now refreshed and provisioned overnight, with generation jobs completed in a matter of hours. For smaller subsets, jobs complete in as little as 30 minutes. The ease of getting this data and the quality and realism of the scenarios it captures has transformed their broken, abandoned demo environment into a platform driving success across the company.
What originally started as an initiative to enable sales training and customer onboarding has ballooned into use cases no one had anticipated. Caridé shared, “Our teams all over the world are currently using the demo platform, and we get teams weekly asking for access.” With 20 teams globally, this adds up to hundreds of end users. “We are sucking it dry. Whoever thinks they can add to it, we say, ‘Come onto the ecosystem—we are ready.’ If people aren’t using it, it’s because they don’t know about it yet.”
One of those unanticipated use cases? Product feedback. Pax8’s UX survey team uses the demo platform to walk partners through the UI and new features, to gather feedback for improving the end-user experience. Also in the realm of product optimization, Sounart and the QA team are using the environment for customer debugging. By de-identifying their full demo environment, they’re able to safely pull up a partner’s de-identified data and find all the scenarios they need to debug partner issues within the demo environment, without having to work via a partner’s screenshare in their live production environment.
And for their core use cases, the value is equally tangible. Previously, sales training relied on tutorial videos, walkthrough guides, and shadowing other reps for 2 to 3 weeks, but it only got new employees to a point where they felt “comfortable-ish” in the platform. Now, that training takes only 1 to 2 days thanks to exploration and practice activities in the Tonic-powered demo environment. Woznick reports, “Most reps come out of training saying, ‘I’m more comfortable with onboarding calls and demoing the platform, than with discovery calls.’ That, to me, is massive. The demo demystifies so much.”
A demo platform that their Sales Managers used to call “embarrassing” is now lauded by one of their top reps as their “favorite thing.” An AE who recently demoed the platform on-site when visiting a partner shared this with Woznick: “I walked them through processing orders and submitting a support ticket and everything went phenomenal. They were blown away.”
Next up for Pax8 is announcing the demo environment formally to their North American Sales team and rolling it out to an additional 300 reps for use in demoing and onboarding prospects. “It’s going to be a floodgate that gets opened when Sales gets a hold of it,” predicted Woznick. The reason behind his prediction? “You can’t tell that our demo environment runs on Tonic data. It is so close to a mirrored experience for what our partners deal with, and that helps us empower them and guide them better. End of story.”