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Is it possible to handle 1000 concurrent while having low cpu?

We're running Centos 7, we're in the process Mariadb 5.5, upgrading to 10.3 today. PHP 5.

The queries are bad, and there are far too many of them to optimize, but I'm trying what I can, the database structure is bad.

The client doesn't care about query optimization, he just wants to lower CPU usage, he runs locust, a load testing tool, give it 1500 users and 1000 concurrent, sees the CPU at in the 90s % and says this is bad. The search functionality is the problem he said.

Again I'm telling you, the queries are bad, I just got hired and doing what I can, but is he looking at the right metrics?