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What Does Server Load Mean?
Checking a server’s load allows us to evaluate server resources and confirm they are sufficient for any running application. It enables us to troubleshoot slow performance and reliably pinpoint any server resource that may need attention.
While there are many tools and options available, today let’s focus on Windows Task Manager as a way to help us quickly see what is going on, and interact with applications, processes, and services to identify the load. This article will also include an introduction to Resource Monitor as it can be opened from Task Manager to provide more detail.
Ways to start Task Manager
- Click the Start menu and type task… then choose Task Manager
- Right-click the Taskbar area and choose Task Manager from the menu
- Press Ctrl+Alt+End keys on the keyboard when in a Remote Desktop session
- Run the command taskmgr
Let’s bring up the Task Manager and take a look at what it has to offer.
On systems where it has never been used, you may find Task Manager offering this very uninteresting display. Click More details to discover the treasure trove of information it is hiding.
Task Manager provides quick access to Processes, Performance, Users, Details, and Services. We’ll go through each tab to see what they have to offer and discover what to look for when checking server load.
The Processes tab shows us everything that is running in the system and the amount of CPU and memory resources it is using. At the top, we can see the total CPU and memory utilization.
By clicking the CPU or Memory column headings, we can sort the processes list by that criteria, and use the sort arrow to determine whether to sort from highest to lowest usage or the opposite. You can click on any individual process and end the task, see resource usage, and more.
If we see a particular application is using a high amount of the CPU or memory, it may be a potential source of performance issues. In the example above, we can see this server is using 78% of memory and only a very small amount of the CPU.
Performance tab has the most visual display of information and allows us to select from CPU, Memory, and Ethernet views to show activity over a 60 second period. With this view, we can identify spikes or see the trend over time to determine if a condition is temporary or sustained.
CPU performance information shows us the type of CPU and speed, the number of processes, threads, and handles in use, as well as the number of virtual CPUs, in most cases. We can also see how long the system has been up (up time). This last bit of information can tell us how long the server has been running, confirm if it successfully completed a restart, or if it rebooted unexpectedly due to running out of resources.
In this example, we see the CPU is at 94%. If this level or higher is sustained over a long period of time, server performance will be sluggish, and it could affect the stability of the system. Sustained high CPU use is an indicator the system is struggling. We need to look at other systems to determine whether it is due to applications or insufficient physical memory that pushes the system to use virtual memory. Doing this will cause the CPU and disk resources to spike and remain high.
Memory Performance information shows us the total amount of memory in the system as well as what is in use and available. Committed represents virtual memory and the pagefile (an extension of RAM) on disk. Cached represents memory used by Windows, and the Paged pool represents memory used by Windows that can be paged out to the pagefile on disk if memory starts running low. Non-paged cannot be paged to the pagefile.
n this example, we see the CPU is at 94%, Memory is at 90%, and we are using virtual memory. When looking at the Committed Memory, we can see that virtual memory is 2.7 GB while the pagefile is 4.9 GB. In this example, we have not maxed out the pagefile. If we find the system is continuously running with the CPU and Memory at or above 90%, it is a strong indicator to add physical memory to the system to reduce the use of virtual memory.
Ethernet performance information shows us the type of network adapter and the amount of resources it is using with a graphed line for both send and receive as well as numeric values for data being sent. We can also see the Adapter name, Connection type, and the IP address(es) assigned. Right-clicking on the graph will allow us to see network details including network utilization, link speed and state, bytes send and received, etc. On the Performance tab, we also have the option to launch Resource Monitor to see even more detail.
The Users tab shows us a list of all the users connected to the server and how much CPU and memory resources the user is utilizing. We can click on a specific user to Disconnect them, send them a message, or take over their session if we have Administrator rights. In the context of checking for load, we can determine if a specific user is consuming too many resources or has disconnected from a session, leaving it running in memory, and choose whether to log the user out to free up resources.
The Details tab shows us a list of all the running programs and processes along with their PID (Process ID) number, whether the program is running or suspended, the user name it is running under, the amount of CPU and memory it is using, and a description of the process. You can click any of the column names to sort by that column in highest to lowest or the opposite order. The PID number can be very helpful to track down a specific process that is referenced in event logs. Right-clicking an item allows us to choose options including:
- ending a process or process tree
- set a priority for the running process
- establish affinity to a specific processor or all processors
- additional options
The Services tab shows us a list of service names, their PID (Process ID) numbers, a description of the service, the status as either stopped or running, and the Group the service is running under. Right-clicking on a service allows us to start, stop, restart, and access additional options. We should be careful not to change the status of some services as they depend on others, and stopping the wrong one could have unintended consequences on the system or devices. To learn more about a service, we can right-click it and choose Search Online.
How Do I Check My Resouce Monitor?
Ways to start Resource Monitor
- Click the Start menu and type resource… then choose Resource Monitor
- Right-click the Taskbar area and choose Task Manager from the menu, then from Performance tab choose Open Resource Monitor
- Run the command resmon
Let’s bring up Resource Monitor and take a look at what it has to offer. You’ll find this has more depth but is very similar to the information available from Task Manager. For this reason, we’ll only cover the overview and a brief description of each tab in this article.
Overview provides us with data on CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network options and graphs all on one page with the option to expand or collapse each section. It will also show current usage of a resource as well as the highest active time. Clicking individual sections provides more detail.
CPU shows processes, services, associated handles, and modules, and will show individual CPUs and their load in addition to total CPU.
Memory shows processes in addition to a breakdown of the physical memory and graphs to show commit charge which relates to use of the pagefile and the number of hard faults per second which can be an indicator of how many times Windows has to access the swap file. If your system is showing hundreds of hard faults per second, this indicates a need more physical memory.
Disk shows the processes in addition to a breakdown of how much each task is reading and writing to disk. The graphs show total disk activity in addition to Queue Length. Disk Queue length indicates how many disk I/O operations are queued up waiting for their turn to be processed by the disk. If we find that the highest active time is above 80% and the disk queue length is 2 or higher, it means processes are waiting, and the performance of the disk is affecting the overall performance of the system. In many cases, this number will be high due to a system that lacks sufficient physical memory and is constantly paging information to disk or relying too heavily on virtual memory. It will often be accompanied by a CPU running above 90% for sustained periods.
Network shows the processes with network activity, in addition to TCP connections and listening ports, and graphs to show network transfer and TCP connections. Sustained high network utilization can indicate congestion issues and a need for more capacity.
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