This is a "why and how exactly does this work" question. The given problem is already solved.


I'm interested to understand what "rotate" in ip load-sharing address source-destination port source-destination rotate <value> actually does. What is the "64bit stream" the documentation (as far as I could find it, see below) speaks of?

What goes into these 64bits? Is it the 64bits that come into play when one uses concatenation?

I'll happily also take pointers to advanced-level documentation of Nexus 9k3's ECMP behaviour. It seems my google-foo is not good enough.

The Back Story

Using ...

ip load-sharing address source-destination port source-destination rotate 30

... on the spines I was able to cure a problem which looked very much like what I came to understand to be a CEF ECMP polarization problem, but since Nexus don't actually run CEF, I wasn't quite sure what I was looking at.

Leaf Spine Topology, with VRF lite and two servers


  • no VXLAN, no underlay/overlay
  • plain routing on Subifs of L3 Ports
  • use case all within the same VRF


  • Nexus 3164Q running NXOS 9.3(2)


  • VPC pairs of Nexus 3164Q running 7.0(3)I4(8b)
  • VRF lite with one loobpack interface per VRF
  • VLANs are local to the leaf pair
  • SVI + HSRPv2 for the local VLAN/subnet
  • Server attached with a 2x10G MLAG (VPC)

Routing and links:

  • spines and leafs: VRF lite with one Loobpack Interface per VRF
  • links A to H are 802.1q tagged subinterfaces of the given 40G link,
  • links A to H are "unnumbered "
  • links A to H are "ospf network type point-to-point"
  • OSPF, single area, no tuning, reference-bandwidth 400G
  • leafs have 2 equal cost routes for the subnets at the remote leaf pair, one per spine
  • spines have 2 equal cost routes for the subnets beyond the leafs, one per half-a-leaf


Server admin reported he could get only 2x5Gbps from Server50 (left) to Server51 (right), using 8 or 16 parallel TCP sessions with iPerf.

  • Src and Dst IP were the same for all flows
  • Dst Port was the same for all flows
  • Src Port was unique to each flow


Looking at the loads of the interfaces involved, we could quickly see that...

  • Server 50 load-shared its flows evenly across its LACP bundle, so leaf101/102 were each getting 50% of the total load
  • leaf101/102 then evenly load-shared the upstream flows across links A&C resp B&D, so each link towards the spines was getting 25% of the load
  • spine11 load-shared all flows down link E to leaf201 (50% of the load)
  • spine12 load-shared all flows down link F to leaf201 (50% of the load)
  • the 10G server port from leaf201 towards server51 got a bit oversubscribed
  • TCP's flow control stepped in and it all maxed-out at ~10G in total.


  • load sharing upstream from the leaves seems to work perfectly well
  • load sharing downstream from the spines seems to prefer one single link
  • if things get unlucky and both spines chose to prefer the link to the same half of the leaf, one loses half of the possible throughput.

So this was all plausible. But why did this happen?


There are many documents and blog posts explaining polarization with CEF and how to avoid it, but I struggle to find the same in-depth info about NXOS and the 9300 series.

Note: the 3164Q is much more of a 9300 than a 3100 Series switch (already starting at what the hardware looks like) - it even shares large parts of the config guide, software releases and release notes with the 9300 series, instead of the 3000/3100 series (see Cisco's own READ ME FIRST about the 3164Q)

Probably the best I was able to dig up was this: Cisco Nexus 9000 Series NX-OS Unicast Routing Configuration Guide, Release 9.3(x), Chapter: Managing the Unicast RIB and FIB

Quote therefrom:

The rotate option causes the hash algorithm to rotate the link picking selection so that it does not continually choose the same link across all nodes in the network. It does so by influencing the bit pattern for the hash algorithm. This option shifts the flow from one link to another and load balances the already load-balanced (polarized) traffic from the first ECMP level across multiple links.

If you specify a rotate value, the 64-bit stream is interpreted starting from that bit position in a cyclic rotation. The rotate range is from 1 to 63, and the default is 32.

Note With multi-tier Layer 3 topology, polarization is possible. To avoid polarization, use a different rotate bit at each tier of the topology.

So I started looking into the load-sharing behaviour of the spines.

spine11# show ip load-sharing

IPv4/IPv6 ECMP load sharing:
Universal-id (Random Seed): 3549312827
Load-share mode : address source-destination port source-destination
GRE-Outer hash is disabled
Concatenation is disabled
Rotate: 32

And I ran a series of commands with the parameters of the streams (which I knew from iPerf's output), one for each set of flow paramaters

spine11# show routing hash ip-proto 6 45440 5001 vrf VRFNAME

Load-share parameters used for software forwarding:
load-share mode: address source-destination port source-destination
Hash for VRF "VRFNAME"
Hashing to path *Eth1/51.301
Out Interface: Eth1/51.301 
For route:, ubest/mbest: 2/0
    *via, Eth1/19.301, [110/411], 19w0d, ospf-30000, intra
    *via, Eth1/51.301, [110/411], 19w0d, ospf-30000, intra

I had 16 TCP sessions running, and running this command 16 times with all the exact parameters, I got 8 for Link E and 8 for Link H (cf. diagram).

From that, one should expect spine11 to load-share across both E and H, but...

... since spine11 only gets half (8/16) of the flows (all of which had already been hashed/balanced by leaf101/leaf102 to be "left" flows), spine11's hashing will forcibly come to a single hashing result. And it all goes to one single egress link.

So that's what ECMP polarization is.


All while the streams were flowing from Server 50 to Server 51, I ran this command on the spines, as hinted at by the Cisco document (see link above) for a multi-tier Layer 3 topology.

ip load-sharing address source-destination port source-destination rotate 30 

(to set another value than 32, which is default)

And very quickly, egress load on spine11 started to distribute evenly across links E and H, where it had been all on one link before. Consequently, the servers now experienced 2x10Gbps of total throughput.

Also, when reverting back to default (rotate 32), egress load shifted back to a single egress link.

1 Answer 1


The reason it works is, you are configuring that switch, with rotate 30, to make a different hashing decision than neighboring switches (implicit default config) even if all the inputs (packet header, ingress port index, etc) are identical.

You mentioned you are familiar with the older CEF technology (not that different from what we have today, honestly.) You might recall configuring ip cef load-sharing algorithm universal which causes each node to generate a unique number used to influence the output of the hashing algorithm.

By giving different values for rotate <n> you're doing the same thing, but supplying an explicit value. The idea is, in a typical datacenter network, you can configure a different value for rotate at each topology level of your network, and make unwanted ECMP polarization unlikely. In a metro ring you could do the same.

  • Thanks for the answer. rotate 30 being the cause for changed behaviour was, well, obvious, even more so after seeing how hashing and traffic flows changed immediately when the value was tuned. The question was geared towards "yes, but how exactly?" About the universal ID, the documentation says: You do not need to configure the universal ID. Cisco NX-OS chooses the universal ID if you do not configure it. I understand from that we already had a universal ID to start with, and yet, we ended up with polarization. Jul 24, 2020 at 22:14
  • 1
    The reason they let you configure universal-id is the same reason they let you configure rotate. The Cisco documentation probably shouldn't say you do not need to configure because although it has a random default, sometimes that won't produce even load-sharing you need in a practical environment. rotate x literally rotates the bits at one stage during the hash computation -- see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitwise_operation#Rotate_through_carry if you are unfamiliar with the rotate operator. Jul 25, 2020 at 12:02
  • Thanks for the comment and the pointer to "rotate" logic. It's still unclear to me what this 64bit stream is made of. IPv4 src and dst adresses are 64 bits already, Src/Dst ports are another 2x16 bits, then there's supposed to be that implicitely given universal ID with 32 bit - that totals up to 128bit (... 320bits if we had IPv6?). In addition to that, there's the concatenate option that can draw bits from src/dst MAC addresses to get to a 64bit hash. Is there something like "cascaded hashing" resulting in a 32bit or 64bit value to which rotate <n> is applied eventually? Jul 28, 2020 at 9:47
  • 1
    The hash algorithm is effectively using a 64-bit register, yes. Cisco doesn't document their proprietary ECMP hashing algorithm (AFAIK no major vendors do) but Linux can serve as an example. Here's a great post with source code references. codecave.cc/multipath-routing-in-linux-part-2.html The thing to take away from it is, as you may notice, Linux effectively performs ECMP hashing in a 32-bit register which accumulates a value by operating on the 5-tuple fields, then maps that value to one of the equal-cost links (or even unequal, where weighted load-balancing is configured.) Jul 28, 2020 at 11:39

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