Server names put the fun in functional

What's in a name? When it comes to servers, as it turns out, quite a lot.

Server names are designed for functionality: They let system administrators easily identify each machine and keep track of what it does. For some companies, that means coming up with a cut-and-dried alphanumeric convention. For others, it means taking the opportunity to get a little creative.

"The basic rule is that the name should be unique with enough options so that [it] can always be informative," says Cormack Lawler, a data center director at Rackspace.

That rule, as I've discovered, provides plenty of wiggle room. I set out to track down the country's most clever and amusing server-naming strategies. Here are some of my favorite finds.

It's a bird, it's a plane...

Smetimes it takes a true superhero to run a busy IT department. The folks at, a job search engine, decided to take that notion to heart.

In true tongue-and-cheek style, LinkUp named each of its external servers after a Marvel superhero character. The team put a lot of thought into its naming process, too. Some highlights:

Pepper, the business logic server, is named after Pepper Potts, the business-minded brainiac behind Iron Man's Stark Industries.

Pym, the virtual server, is named after scientist Henry Pym, a.k.a. Ant Man, because -- as IT Architect Eric Caron puts it -- "it has a very tiny footprint, being a virtual server like VMWare, but is responsible for complex things."

Sage, the company's DNS server, is named after the Marvel mutant character Sage. "All it basically does is answer questions all day long," Caron explains. "It doesn't really do anything exciting."

Dagger, the security auditing server, is named after Silver Dagger, a Marvel character who apparently serves as a locksmith (I'll take their word for it).

Some of the company's server names are a bit more obvious -- Hulk, for example, is the machine with the most horsepower -- but all in all, you can tell these guys take their naming decisions seriously. And according to Caron, the effort is very much appreciated.

"What can I say?" he asks. "Geeks love comic books."

The entertainment files

You know what else geeks love? Shows like Star Trek, The Simpsons, and Buffy. And you'd better believe that adoration shines through straight from Hollywood to server town.

"I've seen a tape library named Giles, [after] the librarian in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a multi-function printer named Odo, [after] the shape-shifter from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," says Brian Greenberg, founder of General System Dynamics. "It's pretty funny when someone tells you that Buffy's got a virus, or that Picard panicked, or that Homer took a dump -- core dump, that is."

Sometimes it's big-screen characters that stir up the server-naming inspiration. Thom Craver, a database specialist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, came up with a Ghostbuster-themed server strategy that includes "Peck," a statistical log server, and "Slimer," a print server.

Rob Ruehle, VP of sales at Liquid Technology, remembers encountering a series of X-Men-based server names in one of his company's hardware purchases. "Our engineers always get a kick out of the funnier ones they see," Ruehle says. "When we got in a full skid of about 20 servers all named after X-Men characters, word traveled pretty quick."

Fairy tale tech

A story doesn't have to be aimed at adults in order to strike a chord. One company found the inspiration for its server-naming strategy in a classic tale by none other than the Brothers Grimm.

The company, Infusion Brands, built its computing center around the concept of the seven dwarfs. And best of all, the whole thing happened by accident.

"It was originally one server called 'DOC,' which was an acronym for something," says Ron Rule, Infusion Brands' VP of e-commerce.

When Rule and his team started to expand, they were struck by the temperamental nature of their newly added second server -- and that led to another familiar-sounding name.

"Frankly, we were new to clustering at the time and didn't know how to set it up properly, and [we] could never get it to communicate properly with the primary [server] -- so we named it 'Grumpy,'" Rule says.

Eventually, one of Rule's colleagues noticed the Snow White connection. From there, a tradition was born, and each of the five subsequent servers received a dwarf-connected moniker. Customers never saw the names, which -- in hindsight -- Rule thinks was probably a good thing.

"It would have made for some amusing customer service calls, wondering why their data was hosted on Dopey," he says.

Baba Booey, is that you?

From kid-friendly creations to X-rated inspiration, our next server-naming convention comes from a downright risque source. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The gang from RJMetrics, a Philly-based business software development firm, names all of its servers in honor of characters from "The Howard Stern Show." And they do it in a way that'd make the "king" himself proud.

"'Howard' is the server where our scheduler application runs," explains RJMetrics CEO Robert J. Moore. "That's where all the brains are; the rest of the servers just follow Howard's orders, kind of like [on] the show."

Beneath "Howard," you have everything from "Ronnie" -- the firewall server, named after the show's security guard -- to "Scott the Engineer," which serves as the main backup machine. RJMetrics even has servers named after Howard's family and regular callers to the show.

"We were thrilled when he recently signed on for another five years at SiriusXM," Moore says. "Otherwise, we would have run out of material."

Personal amusement aside, Moore finds the server names can serve as a litmus test for human compatibility, helping him identify potential friends or even prospective employees.

"The vast majority of people have no clue what the server names mean -- [but] when true Stern fans pick up on it, it blows their minds and there is a definite bonding experience," he says. "Anybody with both the level of Stern fan knowledge to get the references and technical knowledge to be checking out our servers is somebody I want to have a beer with."

Two McServers, to go

The notion of speedy serving takes on special meaning for Seth Rabinowitz. Rabinowitz, who may or may not be a fan of a brisk lunch, worked with a client who opted to name all its servers after fast food items.

Some of the company's server names: Big Mac, Milkshake, McFlurry, and -- of course -- Whopper.

"People loved the server names, even serious people you would think would've dismissed the idea," says Rabinowitz, a partner and lead consultant at the Silicon Associates consulting firm. "It was amusing to hear the extremely serious people say the names."

The tasty-sounding servers weren't entirely random: Whopper, for example, was the company's biggest machine ("supersized," if you will).

All reasoning aside, though, as you can imagine, this kind of naming convention led to some interesting conversations. Rabinowitz recalls one night when Whopper went offline and McFlurry -- its mirror -- was configured to handle its traffic. As engineers discussed the setup, one staffer started to salivate.

"[He] yelled out, 'You guys are making me hungry, [I] can't get a McFlurry right now at Mickey D's, and it's making me crazy!'" Rabinowitz recalls.

I guess creative server naming can have its downsides.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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