Virtual machine nomenclature strategies

There are many different ways that IT pros approach system nomenclature. Virtualization pro Rick Vanover shares several strategies for naming virtual machines.

When an IT department is trying to determine a server's nomenclature, the situation can actually become quite contentious; when you roll virtualization into the fold, things can get even more complicated. I've settled on several design elements for naming systems, whether they are physical or virtual, servers or storage, printers or I/O devices.

The single guiding theme to a system nomenclature is to be self-documenting either at a basic level or in painful detail. The absolute basic information that I'd like from a system's name is to be able to determine the following attributes:

  • Whether the system is virtual.
  • Whether the system is in development or production.
  • What application or operating system is running on the system.
  • Whether it is the first, second, or third (etc.) of a sequence.
These basic identifiers can create a nomenclature that works for physical and virtual systems. Figure A shows an example that does this for a few types. Figure A

Click the image to enlarge.

The obvious missing component is location. As I have been around the block a few times, I've determined that I am better off not having the location within the name of a server. Virtual machines move around, and I'd prefer that the burden of renaming the virtual machine not be associated with the built-in flexibility of the platform. Windows renames fine enough, but applications can require a bit of manipulation to accommodate name changes. Besides, it is just irritating when the first virtual machine shows up in a location that doesn't have the site nomenclature.

This framework is also cluster-friendly, hence the triple digit sequencing for instances in positions 8, 9, and 10. Basically, position 8 would indicate a cluster, while leaving positions 9 and 10 for plenty of space to identify each node. As an example using the framework in Figure A, a cluster of five VMware ESXi hosts in a cluster named ESXI101 would be named as follows:

  • PMPESXI101: Node one of the cluster (physical, production, ESXi)
  • PMPESXI102: Node two of the cluster
  • PMPESXI103: Node three of the cluster
  • PMPESXI104: Node four of the cluster
  • PMPESXI105: Node five of the cluster

This is just one of the ways that I have gone about this task, and I realize there are many ways to approach this topic. How do you name systems now that virtualization is a significant player in the data center? Share your comments in the discussion.


Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.


If the enterprise has servers in multiple locations I suggest the first characters be a location code.


The last place I was at was all simpsons characters.


For small centers (less than 50 machines), meaningful names can be an option worth considering. I mean choosing a topic and giving the machines well known names related to this subject. For instance, names of rivers, artists, mountains or flowers. These names don't carry valuable information as OS, production/development and so, but are the most mnemonic. It's their main advantage. Doubts between vpmail02 and fpmail02? This would not happen with Amazon and Nile. And they also avoid the need of spelling and the troubles with misunderstood spellings. Topics must be politically correct; avoid politics and religion. Cities, states and countries can be misleading; we all tend to presume the machine Chicago is located in Chicago, rigth?


I often see people naming their servers after Starwars characters or planets. It makes it very easy for the nerd who set it up to remember what they are for because obviously Yoda is the master server and Deathstar is the firewall. However I think that this sort of willy nilly naming style is not practical without extensive documentation. I agree with Mary, I would like to be able to tell a few things about a server by looking at it's name. That way you can have an easily recognizable pattern.


The author of the article, Rick Vanover. :D Mary Weilage is, in this case, the Servers and Storage blog host. ;)

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