SmugMug keeps track of its giant AWS environment with Stackdriver Intelligent Monitoring

SmugMug: Meeting Challenges With the Help of Stackdriver

SmugMug, the largest independent photo sharing site in the world, has an extremely large and diverse AWS environment. They use Stackdriver to keep it in check.


“We use Stackdriver to ensure that our systems and infrastructure deliver the performance that our millions of users expect.” – Andrew Shieh, Director of Operations

The Challenge

SmugMug is the largest independent photo sharing site in the world, with a unique set of services for both the hobbyist and professional photographer. SmugMug enables millions of users to not only store and share their photos, but also to sell them, powering the e-commerce efforts of many professional photo-takers.

This year, the SmugMug team dealt with two major technical challenges: moving the remaining part of its data center-hosted infrastructure to AWS and introducing a new photo-sharing service to their customers. These two projects required a significant amount of time and effort from the SmugMug team. Fortunately, Stackdriver provided the SmugMug team with the visibility that they needed to effectively plan, execute, and operate these two critical projects.

Before Stackdriver:  Disparate Monitoring Tools, Digging for Data

The SmugMug team uses AWS extensively—their environment consists of autoscaling EC2 instances, ELBs, Dynamo databases, MySQL, CloudSearch, SQS, and petabytes of photos stored in S3. As such, their operations team must pay constant attention to the health of their environment.

Before discovering Stackdriver, the team used a time-consuming combination of products for monitoring the infrastructure, systems, and application components that power SmugMug. Andrew Shieh, SmugMug’s Director of Operations, notes that  “before Stackdriver, all of the [five] people on our operations team spent a lot of time trying to get the data that we need in the format we wanted–often requiring custom development or scripting.”

In addition to the time-consuming aspect, these monitoring tools did not provide useful insight into the health of SmugMug’s AWS environment—the team was always forced to draw its own conclusions: “They collected the data but often could not easily visualize and use it,” said Shieh.

The SmugMug team needed a reliable monitoring service to successfully process its massive image database—totalling billions of records—from its own infrastructure into CloudSearch: “This operation required a huge amount of multi-step data processing and we had to manage a bunch of SQS queues,” explained Shieh.  “Stackdriver’s native monitoring for SQS meant that we could proactively watch to ensure that the migration was proceeding as planned, and address any capacity issues immediately.  This would have been much more difficult without Stackdriver.”

“With Stackdriver, it’s like having another member on my team”

Stackdriver is like adding a member to your ops team

After deploying Stackdriver, the SmugMug team gained new insight into their environment within minutes: “I was amazed that the data was already there,” said Shieh. Stackdriver’s ease of use, quick setup and intelligence gave Shieh and the SmugMug team the tools they needed to see their vision through.

Shieh equated Stackdriver’s help on this project as having an extra person on staff, not only saving his team’s time but providing the analytics-driven insights that previously-used tools lacked. “Stackdriver gives us exactly what we need out of the box; it’s like having another member on my team”. Stackdriver became essential to the SmugMug devOps team: “These days, we use Stackdriver everyday. It saves us about an hour a day.”

Today, SmugMug continues to use Stackdriver to monitor its entire production environment. “Stackdriver thinks about my environment the way I think of it,” said Shieh.  “I look forward to seeing what they come out with next.”

About SmugMug

SmugMug makes it easy to safely store, share, and sell your photos online. Trusted by millions of passionate customers, the independent photo-sharing site offers ecommerce-enabled, social media integrated, fully-customizable photo websites with gorgeous galleries and easy to order prints and gifts. Whether you’re a pro photographer or a proud mama, you’ll fall in love with SmugMug’s beautiful sites, simple interface, and 24/7/365 legendary Support Heroes. Memberships start at $5/month. Learn more at

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