There seems to be two ends of ther scale here. On the one hand we have these 'wonderful', expensive stress test tools. On the other hand is Microsoft's Web Application Stress Tool which is free.
Who out there has used WAST? And more to the point, what do you think of it?
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Re: Microsoft WAST
"you get what you pay for" and that tool is free
It's a good tool for Developers if you are stressing 1 module, It does NOT have a good reporting capability, and all it does if a bunch of gets... If you want that feature I would go with Webbench is is also a free tool. I recommend though you spend the $$ and buy something decent like LoadRunner, Performer, QALoad, e-Load, WebLoad, etc...
Re: Microsoft WAST
Personally I really like WAST - but with reservations. Most major performance tools simply give you a fancy interface around what your system already has. For example, consider that monitoring is done via Performance Monitor (for Windows) or rstat (for Unix). Well, the performance tool just gives you a pretty way to view that and report on it - something that many free solutions already do.
Having said this, however, I tend to be a type who relies on capacity planning and performance modeling via spreadsheets and statistical calculation. I then rely on the automated tools to confirm or disprove the results of my calculations. Thus, for me, the tools do not need to have all the fancy features that I can get elsewhere if my budget is low - particularly the reporting aspects. (Also if you have an application server, many of them come with ways to supplement performance testing. For example, ATG's Dynamo comes with URL Hammer.)
But, as AJ states, if you have the budget and you have support internally for a good testing effort, try one of the larger tool vendors. You might consider RadView's WebLoad which can be cheaper than Segue's SilkPerformer or Mercury's LoadRunner. Or check out SoftLight's SiteTools product line which has definitely gone up in price but is still quite competitive.
However, going back to your question, I have been able to leverage the use of WAST very well at two organizations now and we never once shed a tear for the major automated solution we did not buy.