We present the results of a detailed study of the Virtual Interface (VI) paradigm as a communication foundation for a distributed computing environment. Using Active Messages and the Split-C global memory model, we analyze the inherent costs of using VI primitives to implement these high-level communication abstractions. We demonstrate a minimum mapping cost (i.e. the host processing required to map one abstraction to a lower abstraction) of 5.4 μs for both Active Messages and Split-C using four-way 550 MHz Pentium III SMPs and the Myrinet network. We break down this cost to the use of individual VI primitives in supporting flow control, buffer management and event processing and identify the completion queue as the source of the highest overhead. Bulk transfer performance plateaus at 44 Mbytes/s for both implementations are due to the addition of fragmentation requirements. Based on this analysis, we present the implications for the VI successor, Infiniband. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.