Server Fault is a question and answer site for system and network administrators. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have got a managed server with a AMD Phenom QuadCore 3000 + 8 GB RAM

I heard that between 1-2 server load is 100% workload.

My current results there are:

1.27 | 0.8 | 0.78

and in the overall graph is rarely over 1 server load.

How do you interpret these results? when it's time to think about a bigger server?

How is server load defined? (usually 1 should be 100% workload in my comprehension!?)

share|improve this question
up vote 16 down vote accepted

The actual calculation for server load is a little bit complex, but for basic understanding, it can be simplified. The best way to think about server load is that it is the average number of processes that are currently running (or waiting to run) in the given interval. Traditionally, server load is given in blocks of three - one minute, five minutes, and fifteen minutes. Load can be caused for many reasons - actual CPU time, waiting on network buffers, waiting on the disk, and on and on.

In the example you gave, your one-minute load is 1.27, your five-minute load is 0.87, and your fifteen minute load is 0.78 - indicating that something the computer is doing over the last minute is slightly more intensive than what you were doing over the last five and fifteen minutes. Simple.

It gets more complicated when multi-core servers are taken into consideration, however. When you have only one processor/core, a load greater than 1 means that whatever you have processes that are waiting, for one reason or another, instead of being actively run. That's generally a bad thing, as it means that whatever you are doing will take longer than it could. When you have multiple cores, however, you can run more than one process at a time. If you have a two core server, the load can go up to two before you start having processes waiting for things, an average of three for three cores, and so on and so on.

Most systems should be run at about a half to two-thirds of their total capacity, as a rule of thumb. Below that, the hardware is underutilized. Above that, it may not be able to handle sudden spikes in activity that come about in most applications. However, there are certain exceptions - some systems should be kept at more restrictive loads, some should be run at full capacity or higher.

None of these rules are hard and fast, and calculations of system load can get quite complicated in real-life situations. But hopefully this will give you a general idea what those numbers mean.

share|improve this answer
OP asked about '% workload' (MS Windows metrics) answer describes load average (Unix metric) – symcbean Jan 24 '11 at 10:30
The numbers he described - the three number load average - is a unix load style, not a Windows style. – Scrivener Jan 24 '11 at 15:52

System load is a traditional Unix done metric by computing the one, five and fifteen minutes floating average of the sum of running threads plus the size of the runnable queue.

Note that processes in the blocked or wait queue, i.e. processes that have been swapped out or that are waiting for an I/O to complete are not accounted in this computation except on Linux where threads in uninterrupted wait state (eg: waiting for a disk I/O to complete) are participating to the load.

That means on most Unix systems, the load represents a good measure of the actual CPU load and can help determining how much added CPUs would help improving a system performance while on Linux, it represents a measure of the perceived load but might lead to incorrect conclusion if the bottleneck is not the CPU but the disks.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.