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I have two servers. One is running a web app on Tomcat, and the other is running my little custom load testing threads against that web app. The Tomcat machine says something like 92% idle and the load average is a low fraction. But the tester server has this:
That's not intense if you're running a 24 processor SMP machine . Assuming you're not, though, it looks like the machine is quite stressed. You should use top to see what's hogging the CPU. You might also get a situation like this if you have a bunch of processes in an uninterruptable sleep waiting for I/O. This can happen if, for example, you're usinf NFS and your NFS server goes down, leaving processes accessing data on it in a limbo.
Well, that's what's probably doing it then. The load average in Linux is the average number of processes trying to run on the processor in the period in question. Furthermore, internally to the Linux, each thread is its own process (at least with pthreads -- I think Java threads work the same way, unless the JVM is managing them all in user-space -- not totally sure how the JVM handles this internally).
I'm not sure if you can scroll down in top, but you can push "n" from within top to change the number of processes displayed. You can also use "u" to only display processes belonging to a particular user.