What’s in a (host)name?

Hostnames, those names we give computers as they are known on the network, and how we refer to them. The names are also attached to traits of the computers. Some are good and never have any issues, some are problem children and nothing but trouble. Often in large environments, you can tell the problem children from the fact you know the hostname, know what runs on it, and who or what uses it. Ones that are never any trouble you simply do not know as you never have to log into them. One thing about hostnames that is kind of interesting, is in the UNIX/Linux world, they are often lowercase, in the Windows world, they are often uppercase. But no real rules exist about case. They can be either or a combination.

These days computers often have boring names like pplzora21 or lnxprd0666 with information about what OS, maybe function or application, location, etc encoded in them. Sometimes, they maybe the company code for a location followed by a location like clev1 or buff2, or really, really obscure. And maybe even have their IP address in the names. Some times they may have multiple names, perhaps the database VIP has a name that points to a server that is different from it’s hostname, or a server may have a DNS alias that points to the same IP as the hostname. All kinds of possibilities for boring hostnames these days.

But in the old days, you could give computers cool names. This as led to some funny naming shenanigans. For example, one environment I worked in, we used of names names from cartoons, Star Wars, Star Trek, and mythology. This led to the database server being called worf, and the web server being called data. And we had servers called pokey and gumby. The login server was called pokey, so every one saw pokey login: when they turned on their VT320. It was kind of funny.

Then there was another environment where we named the computers whatever. Once I named a Sparc 20 dilbert because earlier that week, there was a reference to a Sparc 20 in the comic strip of the same name. Another time, I named an Ultra 1 orion because was listening to Metallica on my way in, and the song that was playing as I was parking was Orion.

This brings me to my home computers. I personally thing a name should have meaning. And for that reason, MOST of the hostnames I use do. Not all. raspi, for instance, the name of my main Raspberry pi computer really is only that for legacy reasons. rapsi was the default name that Raspian had when it first came out. I never changed it for some reason, and that install of the OS was been copied across 3 SD cards, 3 Raspberry PI upgrades ( Model B, 2B and 3B ), and had the OS upgraded in place more times than I can count. After nearly 7 years now, it’s name simply stuck.

tesla is my primary workstation. The name was first used on a Sparc 2 I somehow acquired. Then, moved to the Sparc 20 that upgraded it, then to the Ultra 5. This computer I had in service and did man upgrades on for 9 or 10 years, Then it was moved to a Linux computer what was meant to be my secondary as I was still a Mac user then. And well, it took over, and now almost 10 years later, I’m all Linux, and tesla is still my primary computer.

My first Linux computer I build back in ’95 was called linus. This name stuck. I’ve had a Linux box called linus since. Sometimes it was a VM running on my Mac, but it was always there. It’s been servers, it’s been secondary workstations, VM’s, whatever. Now, it’s a RHEL VM I run that powers my intranet. It’s served this function for about the same 10 years tesla has been my main desktop, as the Ultra 5 tesla did that function. Funny, linus started as a physical, then was a VM for a while, then a physical, and is now a VM again.

My hypervisor is called tardis. Since it’s a litte box on the outside, and is bigger with many servers on the inside, it seemed appropriate. My backup server is called ptolemy, the person who was a co-founder of the library of Alexandria, and more or less invented archiving as we know it today. Seemed appropriate. yeager, my test server is named after a famous test pilot, Chuck Yeager. My quirky laptop is named farnsworth after the quirky inventor of TV, among other things, Philo Farnsworth. tron is a cloud server I use to monitor and manage both my home network and my cloud web servers. And my web servers are named after the domain they are on.

That gives an idea of how I name my computers and why. I will say, however, It’s really too bad that in the corporate world, you can’t give you computers names that mean anything anymore. But, at least my personal systems can typically have meaningful names.

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