‘Would a Server by Any Other Name Be as Functional?’

If you were to break into my network, getting to the contents of the right computer would be easy. I facilitate digital burglars by naming my computers according to what they actually are; my main desktop machine carries the label “Desktop”, my Aspire One is imaginatively named “One”, and this trend continues down to “PowerMac G4”, “Ultra 5”, and “T2”. I always found giving computers real names was a tad bit wacky, but as it turns out, it can actually be very useful to give your servers and computers whimsical but meaningful names.

Josh Fruhlinger has written a story about several naming scheme anecdotes he’s assembled over the years, and it provides an interesting insight into how IT administrators name their servers and clients. The one I personally found quite interesting was where a certain CIA office named their servers after US states, and then continued this trend downwards on the stack by naming subnets’ clients after cities located in their respective states. This led to interesting conversations in the elevator. “I don’t know what we’re going to do about Maine! We’re seeing crashes every day now.”

Naming schemes can also get a bit confusing and funny, as the case of UP and DOWN illustrates. “Our Web server and its mirrored backup were UP and DOWN,” Lee Mandell reminisces, “Unfortunately I never got the chance to say to my boss that, due to a server crash, UP was down — but don’t worry because DOWN is up.”

A naming scheme for servers and clients can be more than just fun and games. Fruhlinger also tells the tale of a company where IT administrators started referring to computers by their IP addresses – because their actual names were too cumbersome. Anthropomorphising your tools – what computers essentially are – may simply make working with them easier, because it’s easier to refer to a computer as “Anchorage”, and have your colleagues immediately know how, what, where, and when. If your actual naming scheme is more difficult to use than IP addresses, then someone made a boo boo somewhere.

This goes deeper than mere preference, though. The human brain is very accustomed to language and all that comes with it, and for us it will always be easier to remember an existing word or place name rather than just a random sequence of letters and numbers. If you manage several servers and clients, having a decent naming scheme will only make things easier for yourself and your colleagues – and you can have some fun too.

My own naming scheme is going to hold up just fine, as long as I don’t purchase two machines of the same model. Having One and One 2 would be a tad bit cumbersome, now, wouldn’t it?


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