Enterprise Software

Naming conventions ease the burden on support

Developing a naming convention for host names on both client and server computers can ease the burden on a support staff. But not just any naming convention will do. Check out how we do it at TechRepublic and see how useful a naming convention can be.

There are a lot of creative minds at work in the IT field, and usually that's a good thing. When it comes to host names on both client and server computers, however, creativity should take a back seat to utility.

Unfortunately, useful host names are not always a first priority when a network is being built; sometimes machines are named with someone’s personal interests in mind instead of the company’s best interest.

For example, on our test network at TechRepublic, we have one editor who happens to be a Peanuts fan, so most of his machines are named after the Peanuts characters. His remaining machines’ names have science-fiction connections.

If a support staff supported these machines, however, these host names would not be much help. TechRepublic's support tech Ted Laun has worked at places where machines were named willy-nilly.

"It was cute, but it didn't do you any good," he says. Every machine has to have a host name as part of its setup, according to Laun. "You can make those names a tool to make your life easier.”

Even small companies should come up with a useful naming convention for their computers. "If you start out thinking big, then there isn't a conflict later when you grow," Laun says. You don't have to waste time arguing against "this is how it's always been" when your network grows so large that cute names become a burden.

Name your client
When it comes time to name client computers, you might consider the way we do it at TechRepublic. An example of our naming convention is L2ksdf00231.

Broken down, this convention is made up of computer type/operating system/airport code/asset tag number.

Here is the convention broken down even further:
  • Computer type is either L or D for laptop or desktop. In our example, this machine is a laptop.
  • Operating system is 2k, NT, 95, 98, or LX for Windows 2000 Pro, NT, Windows 95/98, or Linux. In our example, the laptop is running Windows 2000 Pro.
  • Airport code is SDF (Louisville, KY), LAX (Los Angeles), or JFK (New York). In our example, this Win2k laptop is located in Louisville, KY.
  • Asset tag number is something like 00231 or any other short set of numbers denoting the asset tag or serial number on the machine. In our example, this laptop running Win2k in Louisville has an asset tag of 00231.

Sorting out the details
Laun says the names of the computers used at TechRepublic help him support users in a number of ways.

If someone says they are calling from a hotel room, he can sort the names in his browser list and go directly to the laptop names that begin with L. When he finds the name in his list, he will know what type of OS it is running, helping him to focus on troubleshooting techniques for that OS.

The airport code describes the home base for the laptop or where the desktop is physically located. If TechRepublic had multiple offices in New York City, we could use JFK for the office closer to John F. Kennedy International Airport or LGA for another office closer to La Guardia.

Of all the parts of our naming convention, Laun likes including the asset tag number the best. "It's really the most useful piece of information in the name," he says. Not only does it ensure, by default, that every machine has a unique identity, but it also helps with inventory tracking.

For locating computers, the asset number in the browse list is a great help. Not only do you know if the machine in question is in use, but where. It is also easy to track down the profile currently in use on the machine.

You can also add additional elements to the asset tag number if the situation warrants the extra information. For example, to help identify leasing expirations, a code letter could be added to the asset tag number.

Another place to add information about remote users’ machines is the Comment field. To get to the Comment field in Windows 2000 Pro, right-click My Computer, click Manage, right-click Computer Management (Local), click Properties, and, finally, click the Network Identification tab. (Oddly enough, you can't take a shortcut by going directly to the Network Identification tab under Properties when you right-click on My Computer.)

Where the host name has ramifications on the server side of things, the Comment field doesn't have any negative effects. At TechRepublic, we use the Comment field to put the name of the client computer's user. In the network browser, in Windows 2000, when you hover over a host name in the list, the user's name appears. In the Details view in Win2k, or in the Windows XP browser list, the Comment field will show up as well. (See Figure A.)

Figure A
The network browser list shows both the host and user names in Details mode in Windows 2000.

Taking it server side
What works well on the client side works even better on the server side of the equation, Laun says.

Using an informative name for servers can save a lot of time and grief if your company is acquired or acquires other companies. Plus, it's much more important to get the server name right the first time because, while it may take 10 or 15 minutes to resolve problems on the server by changing a client name, a changed server name affects everyone in the organization.

At TechRepublic, we retired one of our oldest servers a month ago, and Laun is still helping people to find the new server. "I get calls every day," he says.

An example of the server-naming convention we use at TechRepublic is Tr2ksdfpdc.

Broken down, this convention is company name/operating system/airport code/main function of the server.

Server names differ from client names in their first and last elements. Here are the two different features:
  • Company name is Tr or IBM for TechRepublic or IBM. In our example, Tr stands for TechRepublic.
  • Main function of the server is PDC, BDC, or SQL for primary domain controller, backup domain controller, or SQL database. In our example, we have a TechRepublic Win2k server in Louisville that has a main function of serving as a primary domain controller.

The addition of the company name at the beginning may seem unnecessary, unless your company expands through acquisition. If several companies end up working under the same corporate umbrella, it will be easy to sort through the network browser list if the first few letters of the host name are unique to your organization.

You can also use the Comment field to add a short list of other functions that are housed there. For example, if your DNS services are run on your PDC, the host name would reflect the PDC part, but the Comment field could list DNS as a service.

What naming conventions work for you?
Have you found a unique way to name your client and server computers that gives you important information you can use to support end users? How was your naming convention developed? Tell us what you think in the discussion below or send us a note.


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