Cisco Systems has launched a new computer networking and virtualisation architecture it calls VFrame. The architecture combines a set of InfiniBand-based SFSs (server fabric switches) with the VFrame virtualisation software suite. Much of this is based on Cisco's acquisition of TopSpin, though the company said it has developed the technology since the deal.

"We feel VFrame represents a big step forward in utility and virtualisation computing because it's the first truly open utility architecture," says Stu Aaron, Cisco's director of server virtualisation.

However, Aaron based this statement on VFrame's library of vendor-specific APIs. So "open" in this context really translates into support for as many third-party APIs as Cisco can get its hands on, rather than on some new technology that Cisco might have developed.

Even so, VFrame does represent a significant step forward in terms of utility application deployment. By offering the VFrame library of APIs, Cisco does make it easier for developers of existing applications to port their software into an effective utility/grid model. It doesn't solve all problems, but it certainly takes a big load off your hardware worries.

And by using VFrame as the glue between utility deployments and their hardware layers, Cisco offers one of the first inter-vendor utility and virtualisation-management suites in the industry. It's not strictly heterogeneous, as managed devices still need to be VFrame compliant, but within its boundaries it has one of the widest vendor libraries to date, including Altiris, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Tivoli and more.

On the hardware side, Cisco's SFS 3000 series of SFSs replaces the older TopSpin models. Cisco has extended these with additional InfiniBand interconnects and full VFrame support. It also has added both larger configuration models as well as embedded solutions for specific third-party blade products, notably Dell and IBM.

Though VFrame still has a ways to go, its goals are right on target. "We're looking to deliver the full vision of virtualisation," Aaron says, "which means the ability for network managers to break out and manipulate the different aspects of a traditional file server, like CPU horsepower or storage, and apply them wherever they're needed on the network." And that's what virtualisation is really all about.