The Light Bulb Becomes an IT Appliance

When analyst Sam Jaffe began researching smart buildings , he figured his report would be about using IT systems to turn dumb buildings into smart ones.

And while there is some element of that, "what surprised me is the increasing intelligence of the 'things' in the building," Jaffe, an analyst at IDC Energy Insights, said in a blog post last month.

Heating and cooling systems in a modern building are full of chips and sensors, he noted, and "with the emergence of LEDs, the light bulb will make the leap to full-fledged IT appliance, capable of intelligent automated control and energy management."

One pioneering company, Redwood Systems Inc., is developing a networked lighting system that sips so little energy that a 2,500-square-foot room with LED lights "can be powered by an Ethernet cable," Jaffe said. The system has dozens of sensors that feed the controller with data about what's happening inside the room. The lighting can be dimmed in response to real-time energy prices or the forecast of a sunny day.

"Lighting is just one element of this new intelligence in buildings," Jaffe said. "Every other system, from the heating to the elevators to the plumbing, is turning from a set of machines controlled by a computer into a computer with machines built into it."

We are quietly entering an age of computerized building systems where "it's not about plopping computers into buildings," said Jaffe. "The building, it turns out, is the computer."

Read more about hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.

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