Enterprise Software

Scooby-Doo or SFRANFILE: The hows and whys of server names

Whether it's named after a Star Trek character or named after its function and location, server names are important. Here are some of the reasons TechRepublic members choose the practical method and others decide fanciful is the way to go.

The late Lewis Grizzard’s 1984 novel, Elvis is dead and I don’t feel so good myself, could also be the title of an IT manager’s worst nightmare if Elvis is also the name of a file server.

According to TechRepublic members who participated in recent online discussions, there are two schools of thought regarding how to name servers: the school of whimsy and the school of sensibility. And there is a debate over which method is most effective.

Dead musicians are not the only group targeted for inspiration when IT managers name file servers. Cartoon characters and superheroes are also groups managers use when assigning unique server names.

And while managers with a sense of fancy might name their servers after members of the ancient Roman pantheon, other managers with a practical approach may call a server SFRANFILE to indicate the file server is located in a San Francisco office.

When it’s your turn to name a server, which school will you join? To help you decide, this article looks at naming conventions used by TechRepublic members along with reasons why the meaning of server names runs deeper than FILESVR5 and Scooby-Doo.

A practical approach may enhance internal accessibility
In a recent TechRepublic poll of the IT Manager community, 57 percent of 194 respondents said they use a practical naming strategy based on the function or the location of a server (see Figure A).

Figure A
In October 2001, members told us which strategies they use.

In the discussion following the poll, proponents of this practical method said that servers with names based on locale or function are easier for managers to identify and isolate. For example, if NYFILESRV acts up, it’s easy for a manager to know that the file server for the New York City office needs attention.

This strategy is especially useful in large organizations. For example, an organization with offices in Boston, New York City, and Atlanta may set up servers independently. If the nomenclature uses the Roman pantheon, it’s possible to have two servers named Venus set up simultaneously.

Using a structured method (NYFILESRV1 or SFRANPRINT5) will eliminate confusion about where a server is or what it does as well as diminish the chances of having two servers with the same name.

Others say servers with practical names are vulnerable
Some members argued that using a structured approach gives hackers free rein over your servers. For example, if hackers want to attack the New York City office’s file server, they need only look for the NYFILE server.

“Naming servers by location and/or function provides would-be hackers advanced information that could make their attacks easier,” said TechRepublic member russwebguy.

It’s possible that if the New York City file server had a cartoon character’s name, hackers would have a more difficult time finding it. However, TechRepublic member nathand disagreed. He said that hackers can infiltrate networks and damage servers despite any naming strategy.

“If a hacker or malicious employee comes in to look for holes or do some damage, they're basically going to be able to do it,” said nathand.

Reasons for sensibility
TechRepublic members with a more practical approach to names cite these reasons:
  • Ease of accessibility for maintenance and troubleshooting
  • Practical names are easily passed on to other managers
  • Naming servers after cartoon characters and similar groups is unprofessional

Cartoon names remain when server function changes
There are reasonable arguments for naming servers after The Three Stooges or the Teletubbies. While some managers believe fanciful names can thwart hackers, this naming convention also makes servers accessible to users and eliminates the need to rename servers when their function changes.

Practical names can be confusing. “At my current organization, they [servers] are named after function and it creates some weird abbreviations that are hard for some of the users to remember how to spell,” said member Stacey Bedgood.

For example, if a user knows that files are stored on “Snoopy,” there’s little chance they’ll look for files on the “Superman.”

“My last company’s naming convention was Florida city names for one network and Roman gods and goddesses for another. This worked quite well for help desk activities and when conducting inventories [since] most users knew the name of their assigned system,” said member Bill McElroy.

Popular categories
These groups are common areas for inspiration among members who take a creative approach to server names:
  • Greek or Roman gods
  • Animals
  • Cartoon characters
  • Science fiction characters

While creative names are helpful for users, they can also save managers from renaming servers when their functions change. “Let's face it: Organizations are changing all the time, and so does your IT infrastructure. It's no use naming servers according to their function or location, because after a year, your ‘PrintServer02’ will be hosting files and Web sites and your ‘Finance001’ will have moved to R&D,” said member jojo.

So a file server named Medusa can keep the name even if it morphs into a print server, but a server dubbed FILESVR5 should be renamed if its function changes.

The last and best reason for creative names is the comic relief it adds to the workday. “I have a server I installed last month named peaceonearth. I received quite a few phone calls from worried users when we had a power problem and it broadcast a message to all users on the network [that], ‘PEACEONEARTH is shutting down in 5 minutes,’" said TechRepublic member Debby Brownfield.

What's your take?
Which line of thought do you follow—one of whimsy or sensibility? Let us know what convention works best in your shop by dropping us a line or starting a discussion below.


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