Fear names. Names have power in identity. Others can use names as weapons. Names are a hook that can be used to track you… Remain nameless, and you shall be safe. I am the Nameless One.
— Planescape: Torment
In precisely two weeks, notwithstanding events beyond my control, I will be in Sydney making my first attempt at the CCIE R&S Lab. I have never failed an exam in my life, but I have a deep sense of foreboding that this will be the first. Seventeen years of experience, months of study, and I am still finding things I have never used before. I fear my knowledge of QoS in particular is shallow and lacking. But my greatest fear is that my careful, methodical way of working in a production environment will be my undoing in terms of time management.
So I am doing the logical thing right now. Composing a gripe on a pet peeve of mine which has mutated into an enemy to be destroyed. A topic which many of you will dismiss as obvious and others will brand as revealing a lack of soul: naming routers, switches and servers with whimsical, meaningless names.
This was prompted not only by procrastination and CCIE Lab prep angst, but by a tweet from @networkingnerd (follow him – do it now).
Good grief this kind of thing annoys me. Don’t get me wrong – if you want to give your own PC or home network devices whimsical names, go right ahead. But when I turn up to work, and your enterprise network has done this, you had damn well better provide a translator. When I began working at the salt mine I called home for those seventeen years mentioned passim, all of the servers had names of Greek or Roman gods. It appeared that a decision could not be made on even sticking to a single mythology. Now in 1994, it did not take long to learn what each server did. But as the years passed, and servers began to proliferate, so the names began to multiply. Norse gods began to appear. There was no rhyme or reason. And how was one to know that Odin was the reverse proxy in front of the Zeus-knows-what service? Why is Cassiopeia the TACACS server? In the main computer room (the quaint, pre-buzzword name for the Data Center) there was a large lever-arch file with a printed list of mythological names, along with a short precis of each from which to choose.
And when a new file server for the student labs was built and given the name Hades, one suspects for the abuse the server was about to receive at the hands of the great unwashed, I laughed uproariously when management had to deal with a complaint from a religious academic staff member about the inappropriateness of such a “demonic” name.
Finally, upon the advent of serious virtualization, and the further proliferation of servers requiring identification on the network, sanity prevailed. During the mythological period, I had been waging my own small war against this. When I rebuilt the DNS servers, the primary was no longer called Zeus. It was called NS1. When the new Cisco ACS server was installed, it was given the name ACS01. It was a small thing. I just have the logical kind of mind that asks “why not call something based on what it does?” Now, I doubt you could look down the vSphere lists and see a server not named for its function.
Similarly, when deploying switches and routers, logic rules. This is especially useful at the workgroup or access switch level. I chose a scheme which was:
(building)-(room number)-(octet 3)-(octet 4)
where the building (conveniently named A, B, K3, etc) name and room number gave you the location of the wiring closet, and the two octets were the final two octets in the RFC1918 management IP address of the switch. I am sure this kind of scheme is not unusual, but it is immensely useful and self-documenting. Have a port security violation on R-306-121-6? No problem. You know that the issue is on Level 3 of Building R, and to check it out, you need to ssh to 192.168.121.6. Your monitoring station shows all switches with W-502 as their prefix are down, you can hotfoot it over there to see if the electricians are testing the RCDs or whether the builders have sliced though the risers.
Names have power. And a logical, useful naming scheme gives you more power than Zeus, Odin or Gandalf.
And now I am off to continue studying and worrying.