Server names: One of the remaining places where IT managers can be a little silly


Some time ago, ComputerWorld ran a story on whimsical names for servers.

I recall that at my university, one academic department had machines named up and down. I'm sure this led to some strange Who's on First?-style messages.¹

The early email servers at Microsoft were named after muppets. I'm guessing that this came from the term Multiport Transceiver, generally abbreviated MPT and pronounced like the word muppet. (Nowadays, we call these things routers.)

When the IT department ran out of names of muppets, they started using names of trees. (Mine was ironwood.)

Nowadays, the names of the email servers are functional and consequently extremely boring. For example, RED06FT010 is a server located in Redmond, and the other digits and letters indicate where the server can be found. Sorry, I don't know how to decode the values. I've never needed to visit a server in person.

¹ I want to think this was the physics department, and that they had four other servers named charm, strange, top, and bottom.

Comments (41)
  1. Damien says:

    We had such a naming convention in our organisation at one point. What always really perplexed me was that, as it it here, the first the characters were for, effectively, which city the machines were based.

    Why perplexed? Because aside from the DCs (which also had some file and print responsibilities) at each of our regional centres, *every* other server was located in our single server room in our Leeds (UK) office. So you had a few outliers and then every other server name started LDS. Which is wasted space when you’re still trying to fit in a 15 character limit for (other network reasons I can’t remember. I just remember you want machine names <= 15 characters)

    1. Erik F says:

      This was obviously forward thinking, so that when your operations are moved to Cardiff you get to change the names of all your servers. Just kidding: they’ll continue having the “LDS” prefix until the end of time! :-)

    2. reasons I can’t remember. I just remember you want machine names ≤15 characters

      The length restriction is due to NetBIOS names‘ limitations.

  2. Muzer says:

    Our company keeps changing how servers are named. It used to be relatively arbitrary but the names tended to be reasonably simple and so easy to remember. Then for a time they had an insanely complicated system containing seven heavily abbreviated fields that led to something like fifteen character server names that just looked like strings of junk and so were utterly impossible for anyone to remember. In fact I just looked up some servers which our team occasionally used and tried to figure out what the names meant and I found they’re actually named incorrectly!

    I think they’ve come across a pretty decent system now though. It’s just clustername-datacentre-serialnumber. Nice and simple.

    1. Markus says:

      Does your company’s name happen to end in “G”? :)

  3. Richard says:

    My university has pretty standard (from what I’ve seen of others anyway) server names. Athena/Gaia/etc. But our workstations have the unique names. One lab’s workstations are all Star Wars characters while another’s are Star Trek.

    1. And Babylon-5 characters. I felt an excess of joy when I figured that one out.

  4. Aged .Net Guy says:

    Back around the turn of the century my small web services ISV was populated with, unsurprisingly, computer geeks. But the established NetBIOS naming convention was that dev boxes were named after MLB teams, production servers after NHL teams, and QA machines for NFL teams.

    Which meant that new code was batted from the Dodgers to the Rams who tested it then either handed off to the Angels for rework or passed it to the Kings who (we hoped) shot for a goal with our customers.

    Eventually as we grew that gave way to the usual boring FunctionCode & SerialNr convention. But it was fun while it lasted.

    1. Which stage did the Rangers, Jets, Panthers, Giants, and Cardinals belong to?

  5. Mason Wheeler says:

    At my first programming job, the boss was a big comics fan, and so we had a bunch of computers named stuff like SpiderMan, Superman, Punisher, etc. His own system was named after his personal favorite, IronMan.

  6. Martin Bonner says:

    I heard of one small company in Cambridge which named its computers after elements, and the atomic number was the last octet of the IP address. Transuranic numbers were reserved for temporary assignment.

    1. cheong00 says:

      I wonder if there are machine names assigned as isotopes.

  7. Thom says:

    Our old build server was named Bob, as in Bob the Builder.

  8. lucitor says:

    I can suggest an even boring naming, currently in use in my organization: country prefix + MAC address. I assume after the next upgrade, they will switch to an ‘easy-to-remember’ GUID or a random sequence of PI digits.

  9. Ivan K says:

    > I want to think this was the physics department, and that they had four other servers named charm, strange, top, and bottom.
    I was in university when the top quark discovery was announced (and in the womb when it was theorised/published). Heady days.
    Anyway, I recall that the CS and EE departments started introducing boring (sensible) names for their new servers at some point, but the older servers kept their names of famous engineers/scientists/mathematicians (such as bohr.ee.etc.etc). And there was a brief period a few months after the new servers came online when the older servers were actually “faster” than the new servers, due to having less people using them.

  10. BZ says:

    Well, when I was in college, the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) department to be exact, their UNIX server load balanced between red.seas and blue.seas. I don’t recall if their Windows DC or any other server had any interesting names.

  11. Krisztian Hegyvari says:

    Naming databases can be fun too.

  12. Nico says:

    I worked doing IT for the physics and astronomy department at a large university while attending school and our servers were generally named after stars and moons — of which there are lots of great short names to choose from: Vega, Spica, Io, Puck, etc — but we also had generic silly names as well.

    It was all fun and games until we got a new server with a massive amount of storage to do our backups. We thought it would be hilarious to name it “null” so that we could say that we send our backups to (/dev/) null. Unfortunately it turns out the the DNS management system the school used (an old version of QIP) interpreted the string value of “null” in an unpleasant way and as soon as we saved the DNS record it took down the entire DNS server. When netops tried to bring it back up, it just crashed again. It took them several hours (during which DNS was completely unavailable) to fix the problem by finding and manually editing the nameserver database files to remove the entry.

    We never did get to backup to null :(

  13. IT of a company I worked for had Gods of Greek Mythology theme. Primary DC was named Hades. I bought them small bronze statue of Hades with Cerberus at his feet. It was quite fitting, because, y’all know, Active Directory provides Kerberos protocol services.

  14. cheong00 says:

    At university, we were able to locate workstations by computer name range. So by seeing that in our BBS, we can peek who is a particular user by going into that computer room, and calculate what rows and column does that machine locates at.

    1. cheong00 says:

      Btw, I just found my proxy email address (can send out only but not receive) somehow got landed on password hash database. I suppose that is how they work – instead of just using a dictionary, randomly collect pages on the web and try generate password hash based on those pieces.

  15. Kazi says:

    I use the followings: servers are named after star names (not constellations), and client computers are named after greek mythological figures.

  16. El Dorko says:

    I might be the most boring person on this planet. In my small environment (13 servers as of right now), each one is named as per what it is. For example, the name of the fileserver is “fileserver”. Our domain controller is “domaincontr” (can’t fit all characters). The build server is – surprise surprise – “buildserver”. Why? Sheesh, I hate having to guess what is what, and I’ve rarely seen a cutesy name on a server that doesn’t get old after so many years.

    1. DWalker07 says:

      What, “Domaincontroller” won’t fit in 63 characters?

      https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/909264/naming-conventions-in-active-directory-for-computers-domains-sites-and

      Are NetBIOS restrictions still important these days?

      1. alegr1 says:

        You still cannot use an underscores in the computer names

  17. Joe McLaughlin says:

    At an old job I worked, we had our servers named after elements too. (This was a small shop with maybe 10 hosts in the environment that I’m talking about.)

    I fell in on the job, and made a few assumptions. At one point shortly after I started, I was briefing my boss about how the Gold server was good, but the Silver server needed the widget modulator refrobbed because it was operating 10% below the spec. My boss was looking at this in a chart on the slide, and stopped me to ask “Wait, which servers are Au and Ag?”

    Also, the contracted IT had stood up a server for us at one point, and picked the name “Bronze,” which of course isn’t an element.

  18. Motti says:

    In the early 2000’s the company I worked for called their build servers after space shuttles, this prompted email messages such as “Atlantis has crashed”, in February 2003[1] all the servers were quickly renamed.

    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Columbia_disaster

    1. Brian says:

      I worked for an airline for a short time in the 1990s. ‘Crash” (and “Crashed”) were reserved words. Servers could be down, their service could be interrupted, etc., but “crash” was never used in the IT department

      1. cheong00 says:

        I think “disrupted” (for unplanned) or “suspended” (if it’s a planned one) are more common word to use on “service” than “interrupted”, but I could be wrong.

  19. Mark Tolley says:

    Back 25 years ago, we used character names from the “Lord of the Rings”.

  20. Simon says:

    My workplace used to have a convention that all machine names ended in ‘o’… so we had names like “dodo”, “tango”, “frodo”, “sumo”, etc. It was as good a convention as any…

  21. Bulletmagnet says:

    Once upon a time in a test lab far, far away, there were a number of test machines named cardfile, notepad, reversi, solitaire, etc..
    None of them were Windows machines.

    1. David G says:

      Of course not. I’d expect that if there was a Windows machine in that environment, it would follow the convention and have a name like “cat”.

  22. Benjamin says:

    My father worked at a university library in the mid 90s that named all the PCs after disasters… Titanic, Hindenburg, Lusitania, etc.

  23. Mike S says:

    Back when I worked at Shell, our workstations were named after mollusks (because of the Shell logo). Our boss would go to the museum of natural history when he needed new workstation names.

  24. Keith Patrick says:

    I like boring but plain server names – “Mail”, “Source”, “Database”, “Apps”. I have a small network, so I can get away with it.

  25. Zenith says:

    I think interesting server names shows that creativity _might_ be valued. I don’t like working in places that stifle creativity. Those places churn out the worst WTFs because their developers, instead of thinking about a creative solution to a problem, run out looking for prepackaged solutions and declaring everything impossible if they can’t find one.

  26. Allan Beatty says:

    We used to use Marvel Comics characters. The Microsoft Exchange server was Punisher.

  27. SimonRev says:

    I once worked for a place that went with Norse mythology as their server names. It eventually ended when too many people complained that they couldn’t spell (or pronounce) “yggdrasil” which was the main file server.

  28. Peter says:

    There is RFC 1178: Choosing a Name for Your Computer (1990) with the best practices for naming.

  29. Matt M says:

    We use Dakota (not Lakota) numbers for our servers. It adds that bit of culture for our tribal community college.

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