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The IT department of the nonprofit organization I work for recently got a new virtual server running CentOS (with Apache and PHP 5), which is supposed to host our website. During the process of setting up the server I discovered that the slightest use of the new machine caused major performance problems (I couldn't extract tarballs without bringing it to a halt). After several weeks of casting about in the dark by tech support, it now appears to be working fine, but I'm still nervous about moving the main site there.

I have no budget to work with (so no software or services that require money), although due to recent cut backs I have several older desktops that I could use if it helps. The site doesn't need to withstand massive amounts of traffic (it's a Drupal site just a few thousand visitors a day), but I would like to put it through a bit of it paces before moving the main site over.

What are cheap tools that I can use to get a sense if the server can withstand even low levels of traffic? I'm not looking to test the site itself yet, just fundamental operation of the server.

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Apache Jmeter is excellent for this sort of thing - you can simulate simple cases through to quite complicated functionality and it's free. There's a bit of a learning curve setting up the tests, but it's worth the few hours you'll take to learn it.

It's also worth mentioning that Apache ships with the "ab" Apache Bench tool, which you can use for relatively simple benchmarking operations - ie/ fetching a page of your choice a few thousand times with varying degrees of parallelism.

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Checkout this post How do you load test your application?. It is very similar. Jmeter is mentioned and a few other solutions. Almost all of them looked to be free.

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Apache Bench and Forge are both really decent, free, open-source, etc. I've had good luck running them from both my local machine and from servers, with more speed on servers, obviously.

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If you are interested in a free load testing tool, check out our Fiddler extension called StresStimulus. It replays recorded sessions with any number of virtual users and reports detailed performance metrics per request and for the entire test case. Graphs show how performance responds to various load levels. It runs from Windows machines against any HTTP server.

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