Over 150 school districts in Illinois have teamed up to share software and technology through IlliniCloud, a one-of-its-kind nonprofit cloud-computing consortium for schools. Jim Peterson, IlliniCloud's chief technology officer and Bloomington (Ill.) Public Schools' technology director, started IlliniCloud in 2009 with the help of technology company CDW. Three data centers, located in Belleville, Bloomington and DeKalb, house computer systems, backup power supplies and security devices. Illinois is the only state with a cloud for K12 schools, although California and Indiana are in talks with the consortium to do something similar, according to Peterson.
"There are 860 school districts in Illinois, and, so far, over 150 are participating in IlliniCloud," Peterson says. "Each district has to run hundreds of different applications, and they end up buying more software than they need as they plan for growth. With IlliniCloud, schools only pay for resources they actually use."
Most districts are saving 30 to 60 percent in costs. For example, virtualization can cost up to $6,000 (for a server), but districts can rent space on the cloud for only $600 to $800 per year according to Peterson.
According to Peterson, all districts in the cloud can use free open-source versions of software, but full-featured access requires districts to pay a licensing fee to the software company. "Since so many districts are working together, vendors want to be able to run their software in the cloud so they bring their prices down," Peterson says. "That money goes back to the districts to use on technology resources in the classroom."
Bloomington Public Schools has been leading this effort and reaching out to small districts with limited budgets to help them get resources. Peterson wants all districts to be at the same level, and IlliniCloud should get closer to that goal thanks to a $500 million grant from the state to help offset costs, buy excess software and help other schools. For more information, visit www.illinicloud.org.