Naming conventions

Though naming the computers on your network might be one of the your only creative outlets, there are still some rules you should follow.

One of the fun parts of having a network is being able to name all of the computers and devices that populate your

surroundings. Although it's fun, it is also one of those issues that can be vexing and a source of contention. Your goal in naming your systems is to have a user be able to differentiate one type of device from another, and also to be able to locate that device. Before the extensive use of directory services it was important that the name convey a sense not just what the device was, but were it was and perhaps who administered that device. So you might see names like W2KEECHI32 indicating that this was a Windows 2000 Enterprise server number 32 in the Chicago office. You can still use a geographical construct like that in your naming schemes: continent, country, city, etc.

Most people try to pick names based on a supersets and subsets. So it's common to see networks with names of domains or locations as constellations, servers as galaxies, desktops as stars, and so on. That's great if you run an observatory, a planetarium, or space research center, but not so great if you are working with business folk. Other naming conventions may be easier for people to grapple with.

Another common scheme is to name your systems after books and characters or genres and movies. Nature is a great provider of names, in addition to places you can use geographical features such as mountains and rivers; animals and birds; forest, trees, and flowers, and so on. I have a small network of servers and systems, and so I have for the most part named my systems after aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Midway, Intrepid, Reliant, Dreadnaught, etc.) and local towns like Lexington and Concord. (The Lexington was also an aircraft carrier). Unfortunately my clients prefer more personal names, and so we also have systems such as Puppy and Kitty, as well as the whimsical name Macys for my storage server. Clearly you want your colleagues to sign on to whatever system you choose. All of this started, by the way, with the domain server named Enterprise and Voyager after Star Trek.

Given that it is useful to have a naming scheme in place, at least for your servers to be sure, it is wise to reach agreement on a set of names that suit your purpose. That set should contain many choices, some of which you reserve for future system installations. The pool of names should be available so that people can use them, and any name from a retired device can be returned to the pool. It's also a good idea to keep a table of your systems and your names, something you can generate from a report.

You should also encourage your administrators and users to make good use of your directory service by filling in all of the details that are possible for a system's definition. Active Directory, for example, let's you create a comment like Allie's computer on the 2nd floor, detail the operating system and type of system and so forth.

Whatever system you choose, make sure that you won't easily run out of names and that you have a source of additional names that you can call upon. Happy naming!

Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.

This was first published in June 2004

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