World hard drive shortage

Some people reading this already know.  This post is intended for those that don’t.

Around 2-3 weeks ago, floods in Thailand took around 25% of the world’s hard drive manufacturing capacity offline:

Disk manufacturing sites in Thailand — notably including the largest Western Digital plant — were shut down due to floods around Bangkok last week and are expected to remain shut for at least several more days. The end to flooding is not in sight, and Western Digital now says it could take five to eight months to bring its plants back online. Thailand is a major manufacturer of hard drives, and the shutdowns have reduced the industry’s output by 25 percent.

Western Digital, the largest hard disk manufacturer, makes more than 30 percent of all hard drives in the world. Its plants in Ayutthaya’s Bang Pa-In Industrial Estate and Pathum Thani’s Navanakorn Industrial Estate together produce about 60 percent the company’s disks. Both were shut down last Wednesday. (Western Digital also has a major plant in Malaysia that hasn’t been affected by the floods, so some production will likely shift to that plant.)

Fourth-ranked hard-disk manufacturer Toshiba makes more than 10 percent of the world’s hard disks, and half of its capacity is in Thailand. Toshiba’s plant has also been closed due to flooding.

Key disk component suppliers have also been hit. Nidec, which makes more than 70 percent of all hard drive motors, has temporarily suspended operations at all three of its plants in Thailand, affecting 30 percent of its production capacity. Hutchinson Technologies, which makes drive suspension assemblies, has also suspended operations due to power outages, although it says it will shift operations to its U.S. plant.

Seagate, the second-largest hard disk manufacturer, has two plants in Thailand, but neither is in the flooded parts of the country. Seagate notes that “the hard disk drive component supply chain is being disrupted and it is expected that certain component in the supply chain will be constrained.” Translation: Component prices are going up, at least for some parts.

Economics 101: if supply is constrained and demand remains constant, prices are going to shoot up. This has already happened now.

So with hard drive production being affected so heavily, what does that mean for us consumers? We run the possibility of seeing high prices and limited availability at one of the most important times of the year. Indeed, some retailers like Newegg and NCIX have already begun limiting the number of drives a customer can purchase (Newegg is currently at a limit of one drive per customer while NCIX has announced a limit of two) as they gear up for supply shortages and price increases throughout the channel. Speaking of price increases, we have seen a spike of 15% to 30% in the cost of some models over the last 72 hours.

This couldn’t have come at a worse time since Christmas shoppers will see higher prices on everything from notebooks to PVRs. Flash memory isn’t safe from this turbulence either so expect its prices to increase as consumers begin looking for alternatives to HDDs. So gear up folks because the days of cheap storage space are about to end….for a few months at least. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people suffering through this disaster.

And I’ve confirmed that this has hit our local suppliers as well. I priced a rig for a friend of mine in mid-September, and quoted a 1TB Western Digital HDD (from one of South Africa’s more reputable online stores) for R 864.12. That same HDD, from the same store, is currently R 1,127.46, and that price is not going to drop anytime soon.

To make our lives even worse, ASUS has confirmed that they only have HDD inventory until the end of November. This has the potential of affecting their supply of notebooks, desktops, etc. – which could result in those prices rising as well. We could well see more knock-on effects elsewhere as well.

TL;DR – now’s not a great time to buy HDDs.