Myths, gods, and titanic disasters: How servers really get their names

Want a server to last forever? Name it Belgarath.

Last month we looked into the practice of naming servers, half expecting to discover it was a quirky, geeky thing to do -- and nothing more. To our surprise, readers flooded the story with comments, chiming in about their own naming schemes -- what worked, what didn't, and flashes of brilliance. Let's just say that server naming is a surprisingly complex undertaking. Here's what we learned.

What's in a name?

The practice of naming servers and other machines was born of the basic need to distinguish among machines. In fact, as one reader reminds us, this was a convention in factories long 'before computers ever existed. It helped people working on the machines distinguish which one they were talking about when they had dozens or hundreds of the same machine on the factory floor.'

Photo by Lamerie

And, let's face it, naming things is just part of being human. "Anthropomorphizing gear is a very nice way of making sure that people remember what it does and kind of care for it," says Retep Vosnul. "Picking a suitable name [for] a server is very satisfying as well. For example, a server that needs to have very high service uptime, you might want to give a name that reflects that.... I used Belgarath (7000 year old wizard) and other characters from the Eddings novels and I used to use A'tuin and other Discworld persona for other networks. My former employer did not want names for some reason and I never felt at home in that datacenter, it lacked something."

Courting disaster

If uptime is important to you, why tempt fate? 

Consider the case of one reader who named a Windows NT domain "Hades" in an attempt to be "ironic and edgy." Should it really have come as any surprise when 4 computers on that network died in 2 months time?

Photo by cliff1066

Or what about the government agency that named all their servers after disasters? With a main server called Hindenberg (as it used to go down so often), why would you take the chance of backing it up with a server called Titanic?

And then there's the "meaningful" naming convention gone awry: "When told to move to a global standard," a reader writes, "we were told to name Norway's mail server to NOMAIL (at the mail server level), and Canada's physical server name to CANTMAIL (NT was to signify the OS)."

Now that is courting disaster.

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