On the naming of machines
The other thing we had to do the other day was name the new server we were bringing up, which is often harder than it looks.
Good names machine are important because they let you tell things apart. This means that good names have to be different from each other, so you can avoid fun games like 'was it ws3-05 or ws5-03 that had the problem?'
People usually resort to generic names like 'ws5-03' for two reasons: they need a lot of names, or they need a bunch of names with predictable patterns. Fortunately, there are alternative approaches.
One department here names computers after Toronto streets; servers are named after major north-south streets, and workstations after east-west ones. This has several nice attribute: they're certainly not going to run out, the names are short, different from each other, and already pretty memorable, and there's even a sequence to the names.
The only disadvantage this scheme has is that it's confusing and embarrassing to copy it, so everyone else at the university has had to come up with different ones.
In another group, we needed to come up with names for up to 60 workstations or so per lab that had a clear sequence, so we could easily map between sequentially assigned IP addresses and the workstation's name. Instead of using names like 'ws5-03', we decided to use the names of the elements. This has some advantages:
- there is a clear sequence that runs all the way up to 103 machines per lab. (Yes, we've had machines named 'Lawrencium'; it was convenient to steal the high-numbered names for other purposes.)
- the names are quite distinct; we aren't likely to mis-remember Chromium as Oxygen.
- there is both a long and a short form of the name, eg Mercury and Hg.
- it feels appropriately educational.
- some of elements have genuinely cool names. (My favorite is Technetium.)
I also like to think that users like logging in to machines called Chromium and Oxygen and Mercury more than they would like logging in to 'ws5-03', because it makes the machines feel less impersonal. I firmly believe that people just plain respond better to names than to numbers.