My Server Naming Scheme Rules

It seems like everybody has their own idea of the best way to name computers. Some people like functional names, like HQPRINT01 or MSP-SALES. Some people like unique names, like LARRY, VOLTRON, or STRONGBAD. I like to mix the two, with each host getting a unique name plus any “service” names it might need for customer interaction. That way if I repurpose a machine, or add a service, I can just give it a new service name. Likewise, if I move a service I can move the DNS entry for the service without having to reconfigure every client.

Regardless of what you like individually a sysadmin team should have a clear policy about naming things, so names are uniform. RFC 1178 has some naming suggestions, but here are the rules I try to follow:

  • Each computer gets a unique name, plus service DNS A records. If you aren’t a sysadmin use service names for absolutely everything.
  • Use a single word. Shorter is better, spelled accurately and as it sounds, begins with a letter, only alphanumeric.
  • No duplication of pronunciation. If you have a server named CHECK then the name CZECH is out.
  • Use hyphens for separators. I like hyphens more than underscores because they are easier to see and marginally easier to type.
  • If the service name is to include a role do so after the name, using a hyphen to separate them. For example, if you have use wiki-dev for development, wiki-test for testing, and wiki-db for the database service name. This makes them quite sortable and predictable. It also keeps your developers from having to remember that LARRY is production, CURLY is test, and MOE is development.
  • Use a naming scheme per project. Pick one that is adequately sized for the number of servers, small or large. Even if you don’t know offhand what the server BIRCH does you can tell it’s your coworker Greg’s machine because his project uses tree names.
  • If you have a cluster where every machine will be identical use numbers. ROCKS-01, ROCKS-02, ROCKS-03, etc.

The RFC suggests against overloading terms, but personally I like names like UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, etc. It makes my coworkers and I speak more accurately about things. I also always capitalize server names, so that helps.

Server names are where sysadmins can be creative, but use that creativity to an advantage, not to confuse. Consistency is always the goal.

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