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Last Updated December 10, 2003

Guide to Computer Naming Schemes and Conventions

Many administrators don't put much thought into choosing a standard naming convention for the various servers, workstation, and shared printers when they start a small to midsize network. But as your network grows, the lack of continuity and usefulness of a random (or bizarre) naming scheme can turn into an administrative nightmare. A computer name must be unique, but should also be somewhat descriptive or useful to users and Administrators. In this article we will take a look at the guidelines for naming conventions on Windows 2000, examine common naming schemes, and suggest a few alternate schemes for growing networks. 
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Guidelines for computer naming standards
In a Windows 2000/XP network, each computer must have a unique name that identifies it to other computers using WINS and DNS, and to Administrators and Users on the network. It is generally recommended that computer names by under 15 characters for convenience and compatibly with NetBIOS and WINS. The computer name can use a mix of letters and numbers, but you should avoid hyphens, underscores, or using all numeric characters.  If you are running TCP/IP, you can technically use up to 63 characters for the DNS name, but if you have a large and deep Active Directory structure with several sub-domains, you can run out of spaces quickly. For best results, follow these basic guidelines when choosing a computer name for your server or workstation:

 Best Practices

Use only letters (A-Z) and numbers (0-9) in your computer names. Hyphens, underscores, and other characters may cause problems with your DNS Servers.
Do not start your computername with a numerical character. Not all DNS Servers expect to see a DNS name that starts with a number, and may interpret it incorrectly. 
Avoid names consisting entirely of hexadecimal digits as they can be interpreted entirely as hexadecimal numbers as well as alphabetic strings. The hexadecimal digits are the ordinary, base-10 digits '0' through '9' plus the letters 'A' through 'F'. In the hexadecimal system, these digits represent the values 0 through 15, respectively.
Although Windows NT supported all numerical computer names, Windows 2000 does not. Be sure to avoid this pitfall when upgrading your NT workstations and Servers.
Try to keep your computer names under 15 characters in length to make them easier to remember and type. Avoid using terms and words that are difficult to spell, or sound like other words. (i.e. Check and Czech).
If you specify a computer name longer than 15 characters and you want longer names to be recognized by the Active Directory domain, the domain administrator must enable registration of DNS names that are 16 bytes or longer
If you are using a technical theme for your naming convention, use one that is understood by your entire organization and can scale as your network grows. After all, not everyone is a die hard Star Trek fan. 
Avoid using usernames as the computername, as this creates an Administrative nightmare when you replace a users PC, or if you give the PC to a different user. Try using a simpler and impartial naming scheme based on location and serial number. 
Avoid alternate spellings. Hackers and computer geeks love to use mixed characters in naming themselves or their equipment. (Substituting "zero" for "O", and "3" for "E") Get a grip on your staff before this starts.
Place a small label or tag on the front of every server to identify its computer name for Administrators working in a server room. On workstations, place the stickers on the sides of the computer case and out of view from the users, you may tempted to peeling them off.

Common practices for small organizations
Home networks and smaller organizations frequently choose informal or humorous naming conventions that can be based on obscure historical, literary, mythical characters, or cartoon characters. Some of the more interesting themes we've seen include cheeses, wines and other alcoholic beverages, satellites, planets, Science Fiction (Star Wars/Star Trek), muppets, musician/band names, celebrities, cars, mountains, rivers, and even bizarre medical disorders.  While several of these may be fine for home use or small isolated networks, administrators quickly discover that this doesn't scale well when your network grows. Unless your entire organization is dedicated to astronomy, naming your servers after galaxies, and your workstations after planets will simply confuse users and Administrators alike. If you decide to use this method to name your servers, choose a theme that is easily understood by both your users and administrators, and that still has room to grow. If you think your organization will grow past 10 servers and 100 workstations, you may want to choose a naming scheme that is more descriptive.

Common practices for large organizations
In large organizations that manage thousands of workstations and servers, a logical and standardized naming scheme is a must. Not only can this quickly identify the appropriate support personnel for that server/workstation, it can also be used as a security tool to identify the location of internal security threats without having to tear through the subnet tables.

In several of the Fortune 500 companies that I have worked for over the years, a common naming practice revolves around choosing a theme that rapidly identifies the location and function of a network device. The scheme usually consists of a standardized location identification code, followed by the department code, a description of function, and a numerical sequence.

Common coding abbreviations
SV Servers
WS Workstations
PR Printers
TS Terminal Servers
DC  Domain Controllers
IIS Web Servers
MSX  Mail Servers
SQL SQL Servers
SMS SMS Servers
APP Application Servers

Following this example, a Server in the 6th floor of the Headquarters in Cleveland Ohio would start with "CLVHQ06SV" This name takes up 9 characters, allowing for 6 additional characters which can include additional identification data. We don't move our racks around frequently, so of our 3 web servers, the one sitting in rack number 18 is "CLVHQ06IIS18003". It may sound complicated at first, but once your staff gets used to the convention, it makes it much easier to locate and troubleshoot servers. Just make sure to include a cheat sheet for new employees and visiting contractors.

For workstations, (which can number in the thousands) a slight variation uses a similar starting sequence "CLVHQ06WS" followed by either cube number, department code and sequence (HR124), or part of the user name. You'll have to balance this with how often PC's move around your organization, how high your personnel turnover is, and how closely you want to track your workstations.

Automatically Generating Computer Names
If you are using Windows 2000 Remote Installation Service to deploy your Windows 2000 Professional, you can use
the Automatic computer naming option to make sure each client computer is provided a unique name during the remote installation request. The default format is the user name with an appended incremental number.  You can also create a custom naming policy; to do this, click Customize. You can then select one of the following options to automatically create the computer name:

The user's first name is used as the computer name.
The user name is used as the computer name.
The name includes an incremental number.
The user's last name is used as the computer name.
The network card media access control address is used as the computer name.

To limit the length of the computer name, add a numerical value to the text string. For example, if the user's last name is Smith and you want to limit the name to three characters (Smi), use the following string: %3Last

You can also combine options. For example, if you want the computer name to consist of the first three letters of the user's first name followed by the first three letters of his or her last name, use the following string:

Alternate Sources for Computer Naming Schemes:

The Encyclopedia Mythica
An online encyclopedia of mythology, folklore, and legend with over 5,700 definitions of gods and goddesses, supernatural beings and legendary creatures and monsters from all over the world. Makes a great reference for generating computer/server names, project codenames, hard to guess passwords, and a unique test user list for computer labs.

Satellite Names
Still can't figure out what to name your new server? This page lists the names that have been given to satellites and rockets. Names that are merely acronyms or descriptions of the satellite's function (e.g. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) are not included. NASA has named a number of its scientific satellites, and other space agencies have also used up some names.

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