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An old-fashioned business moves into a new age with cloud

Timber firm Rayonier faces unique challenges in doing business. Modern times demand intensive computing, but backwoods locations make it tough to keep pace with the times.

Rayonier is in a business that thrived before technology went mainstream: Before electricity, before mechanized power, when timber was felled and harvested by hand and axe. Today, however, the 82-year-old, $1.2 billion timber firm and real estate trust has to keep up with an electronic world -- a tough proposition when workers expect to use the latest gadgets, but sometimes they are literally off the grid.

As Rayonier modernizes, it is finding that cloud computing offers a variety of services that meet its needs, as long as users can get online and tap into it. That's the first order of business for Adam Rasner, Rayonier's director of corporate networking.

"We have an extremely challenging environment," he said, where field offices can lack technology that most take for granted today. Rasner said he has global challenges, like sales offices located in Asia, where Rayonier sells a significant amount of its "performance fiber" (refined wood cellulose used in high-tech manufacturing like LCD screens), and local challenges.

"I drove out to one of the forestry offices here and I passed a billboard for this motel that said, 'Now offering telephone service,'" he said. Rasner was in Florida.

Rasner said he knew he was in a mess when he landed at Rayonier, with rapidly aging infrastructure, creaky and expensive frame relay connections to satellite offices and factories, and servers and data scattered across the world. He decided early on to get out of handling as much of the nuts and bolts of IT as he could. "We had to get off the shared service model" where an IT department collects and distributed IT resources in-house, he said.

We're looking at something where we can [eventually] get rid of all our servers.
Adam Rasner, Rayonier's director of corporate networking,
Rasner said that modern technology for workers, like graphics-heavy surveying and geo-location tools, as well as the growth of office computing in general, were straining connectivity. A 20MB PowerPoint file is considered normal these days, he said, as well as surveying tools that are now standard for his industry but too much for the frame relay connections in place at Rayonier's outlying offices. "What they're [using] is this very graphics-intensive, map driven stuff in the sticks," he said.

Rasner said he's almost finished migrating Rayonier's far-flung offices off frame relay connections to modern multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) connections. Frame relays were widely used for T-carrier networks, but they're considered obsolete in today's fiber-optic world.

A T1 line can carry 1.5 megabits per second, requires an expensive dedicated circuit to the carrier's network and doesn't transmit data on standard IP-based networking equipment. That kind of bandwidth is pokey today, when even home consumers can get 10 or 20 MB/sec on modern, IP-based networks.

Rasner said that the switch was vital for him, since the expense of the frame relay connections far outweighed their actual use, and his users were becoming vastly more demanding in their IT use as they took up new technology in their business. However, after moving off frame relay, connectivity was still a trickle by modern standards, so Rasner looked into WAN accelerators; in this case by Riverbed.

The devices streamline packet transimission by reducing packet error at either end of network. He said he's seen data transmission rates improve enough that now he can start thinking about cloud computing offerings to lighten his IT load even further.

"Email and file shares have turned out better than I expected," he said. "Our initial implementation was a couple hundred thousand dollars" on the network services and WAN accelerators, he said, and he expects to spend a comparable amount more, but expects reduction of overhead and centralizing control of data to more than justify the investment.

"Generally, Rayonier's looking for every opportunity to get [IT] off our plate," he said. "The next part is to finish the rollout, continuing to pull as much stuff from the field as possible." After that, he's looking forward to junking the company's Lotus Notes email system, possibly in favor of Gmail, which he deemed a bargain at $50 per user per year.

He said as far as his users are concerned, they're already used to working remotely; the WAN accelerators can pick up some of the slack, so the user experience wouldn't change much. That means cloud computing, especially with a proliferation of easy-to-use, bespoke services, is the way to go for him. "We're looking at something where we can [eventually] get rid of all our servers," he said.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at Contact him at

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