Choosing Server Names

A very interesting discussion over at reddit (What is a good name for a server?) got me thinking on how to choose server names. In the same discussion someone posted a link to RFC 1178, which contains guidelines on choosing names for computers. I thought why not try to come up with some alternate ideas?

I am of the opinion that one should pick a theme and choose names from within it. For example, a very popular theme is mythical creatures or deities. If you choose Greek gods and heroes, then all your servers are named using their names. Extending this idea, why not pick different themes for different types of servers and devices? For example, Greek deities for servers, colors for printers, classical musicians for network devices, etc. This allows one to identify not only the device in question but also its general classification.

Sometimes it’s just easier to name servers after their function when users are neither very creative nor want to be. For example, if a bunch of servers are for databases only, they could be called DB1, DB2, and so on. Not much fun, obviously, but some situations might warrant this approach. Therefore, we need to keep an open mind.

I mostly prefer lowercase names because they are easier to type. They are not passwords where case sensitivity might be expected or desired. And since almost all commands on Linux/Unix are lowercase, it just flows with it if that’s your platform of choice.

Some people might be consultants and may have to choose names for devices in multiple organizations. In such cases you might want to choose themes for one organization and not repeat them for others. It might be a bit more difficult to know which Hnoss if two or more organizations have the same name for their devices.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if a server is retired or replaced, to not use the name ever again. Instead, pick a new name, even if the newly named server is providing the same function. Unless of course changing the name would incur huge cost in updating references in applications, config, etc. The reason is that you don’t want people to refer to “old Athena” and “new Athena” instead of “Athena” and “Silverius”. Using “old” and “new” might be confusing in certain contexts.

This discussion is not limited to device names only. Logins and passwords could also be created using themes and their set of names.

Some suggestions for themes: types of sports (soccer, football, baseball, cricket …); sportspeople (tiger, graff, sampras, jonty, warne, nadal …); rivers (nile, indus, ganges, danube …); poets (keats, angelou, iqbal, bronte …).

Edit September 2010

Some other themes could be TV shows (stargate, firefly, eureka, star trek …); female characters (daisy duke, vesper lynd, padme amidala, inara serra, selene, ellen ripley, buffy summers, dana scully, sam carter, leia organa …); fighter aircraft (firebrand, skynight, javelin, tempest, …); bomber aircraft (dragon, avenger, skyraider, …).

Edit January 2014

In some situations it might be better to not have a theme to choose from. Just pick a name you like and use it. This way you never run out of names and has the added benefit of distinguishing servers even better. For example, two servers called nile and indus may cause one to think twice about the role of the server but nile and football are different enough to be easier to distinguish.

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