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What Does Workload Mean?

The amount of work performed by an entity in a given period of time, or the average amount of work handled by an entity at a particular instant of time. The amount of work handled by an entity gives an estimate of the efficiency and performance of that entity. In computer science, this term refers to computer systems’ ability to handle and process work.


Components such as servers or database systems are often assigned an expected workload upon creation. Analysis of their performance compared to the workload that was expected is then conducted over time.

Techopedia Explains Workload

One approach to boosting workload capabilities is to increase the number of servers and run applications on different servers. The disadvantage of this approach is increased costs in setup, maintenance and deployment.

A few specific types of workload that apply to computer systems include:

  • Memory Workload: Each program or instruction needs some memory to store temporary or permanent data and perform intermediate computations. The memory workload determines the memory use of the entire system over a given period of time or at a specific instant in time. Paging and segmentation activities use a lot of virtual memory, thereby increasing the use of main memory. However, when the number of programs being executed becomes so large that memory becomes a bottleneck for performance, it indicates more memory is needed or programs need to be managed in a more effective manner.
  • CPU Workload: CPU workload indicates the number of instructions being executed by the processor during a given period or at a particular instant of time. This statistic indicates a need for an increase in processing power if the CPU is overloaded all the time, or a decrease in processing power if CPU use falls below a certain threshold. Further performance improvements can be obtained for the same number of instructions executing on a CPU at a given instant of time by decreasing the number of cycles required by an instruction for successful execution. The latter can be achieved by improving code efficiency.
  • I/O Workload: Most applications tend to spend considerable time gathering input and producing output. As a result, the workload of input-output (I/O) combinations on a system must be analyzed thoroughly to ensure that appropriate load performance parameters are met. A statistic on the number of inputs gathered by a system and the number of outputs produced by a system over a particular duration of time is termed as input-output workload.
  • Database Workload: Databases can be analyzed for their memory use, throughput at maximum loads and I/O throughput. Each of these components can give a small approximation of the database performance and its parameters. However, the true workload of a database can be analyzed by determining the number of queries executed by the database in a given period of time, or the average number of queries being executed at a particular instant of time.

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Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor
Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.