Cloud computing consortium aids Illinois schools

Forward-looking K-12 school districts across the country may envy the sophisticated technology systems of a major university or large company. But in Illinois, schools are banding together to share technology systems once reserved for big organizations, at a fraction of the price schools would pay on their own.

At the center of it all is IlliniCloud, a non-profit cloud computing consortium for Illinois schools. IlliniCloud worked with CDW to provide affordable access to virtual servers, online storage and high-speed network connectivity across the state – technology muscle that, until recently, was out of reach for most K-12 schools. Sharing data center resources and costs among schools across the state helps each school district to focus more on advancing the use of technology in the classroom for the direct benefit of students.

“By working together to maintain technology in the cloud, organizations can spend less time in the data center and more time delivering on their core mission,” said Thomas E. Richards, president and chief operating officer, CDW. “In the case of the IlliniCloud, dollars not spent in the data center can be thoughtfully invested in the classroom. The IlliniCloud can be a model for other organizations in a position to partner with others who share similar needs.”

Launched in 2009 at Bloomington Public Schools District 87, IlliniCloud combines resources from its members, including IT budgets and excess server space, to deliver state-of-the-art, on-demand technology across the state. Critically, it offers member schools technology capabilities that most would not otherwise be able to afford or staff. Jim Peterson, chief technology officer for IlliniCloud, notes that the community cloud levels the IT playing field, putting key technologies within budget reach of virtually any school in the state.

Working closely with IlliniCloud, CDW sales and solution architects provided onsite consultation and services to help the consortium validate and expand its plans, as well as implement the solution. Today, the consortium provides disaster recovery solutions and hosting services to more than 150 districts.

The Champaign Unit 4 School District in Champaign, Ill., previously did not have access to affordable IT services such as data back up and virtual servers. “Disaster recovery is a huge focus and concern for us, but like many organizations, implementing a new, cost-effective solution was simply out of our reach,” explained Roger Grinnip, director of information technology at Champaign. “IlliniCloud offered us a comprehensive, off-site disaster recovery solution at a fraction of the cost of an upgrade. We have peace of mind knowing that if our network goes down, our information is saved and available.”

Peterson, who is also director of technology at Bloomington Public Schools District 87, plans to grow the IlliniCloud to 400 members within three years. “With the cloud computing model, we don’t charge you for resources you are not going use. It is very easy to bring in new members once they realize we can deliver better service at a lower total cost. Members are then free to refocus technology resources on the classroom, for the direct benefit of students and teachers.”

The IlliniCloud will continue to enhance its capabilities. “We are looking ahead,” Peterson said. “Our members tell us they want enterprise applications such as hosted software, e-mail list servers, online file storage and an open-source video-sharing system for lecture capture – and we plan to deliver.”

To build a community, private or public cloud, CDW recommends that organizations develop an IT strategy that defines the project and its scope. Next, organizations should conduct an IT asset review and develop clear IT governance to ensure the efficiency and stability of the solution. Finally, organizations should select a validated architecture. IlliniCloud, with guidance from CDW, built its solution using a technology platform that included:

Ø Cisco Unified Computing System
Ø VMware vSphere virtualization software
Ø Fibre Channel storage arrays and enterprise-level storage equipment
Ø F5 Big-IP load-balancing equipment
Ø Juniper Networks 10 gigabit Ethernet networking gear

CDW offers cloud computing solutions. Its approach includes:

Ø Initial discovery session to understand organizational goals, requirements and budget
Ø Assessment review of the existing environment and project requirements
Ø Procurement, configuration and deployment of the final solution