Illinois’ IlliniCloud is helping districts save money and back up their data in the event of a disaster.

A growing “cloud” means a brighter future for many Illinois school districts, and Bloomington District 87 is leading the way.

Last week, some of the brightest minds in technology were in California’s Silicon Valley to discuss the best policies and practices in cloud computing for state and local government. Among them was District 87 Technology Director Jim Peterson.

He’s accustomed to being on the cutting edge. The district’s IlliniCloud, which he helped create, has been featured in magazines; its home base visited by state and federal school officials and business leaders; and its creators invited to spots across the nation to share their expertise.

The reason: IlliniCloud, which provides access to virtual services, online storage, and high-speed network conductivity, has found solutions that work for school districts—and saves them money.

Each school district that joins IlliniCloud can potentially reduce its spending on information technology by 30 to 50 percent, Peterson estimates.

Already, 200 school districts in the state use the service.

“Bloomington’s efforts allow other districts to put money into instruction instead of infrastructure,” said State Superintendent of Education Chris Koch during a recent tour of the IlliniCloud data center held in a locked, climate-controlled room in Bloomington High School’s basement.

When all school districts buy hardware and backup services, and develop new programs for the latest state requirements such as teacher evaluations, it makes sense to share resources, Koch said.

For years, cooperative buying of paper supplies, diesel gas for buses, and even sporting facilities has helped school districts cut costs. IlliniCloud performs a similar function in regards to technology. Every school district has to create report cards, keep tests scores, maintain lunch and student attendance records, and myriad other functions.

“We’re all doing the same things,” said Peterson.

IlliniCloud, launched almost three years ago, was created by Peterson and District 87 systems administrator Jason Radford with help and advice from others in educational technology. Now, it is getting national attention as they develop the technology further—with support from the state board of education, prestigious companies, and others, including the Carnegie and Gates foundations. The state board’s contribution of $5 million helped make it a reality.