IT Departments: Beware of Hard Disk Drive Shortages

Carl Weinschenk
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IT managers must pay attention to many things, including outside events with the potential to disrupt the availability of new gear.

The intense flooding that impacted Thailand last month is one of those events. InfoStor and many other sites are reporting that the availability of hard disk drives, which are manufactured in the areas impacted, could be drastically affected to create a shortage of personal computers and other enterprise gear and lead to higher prices.

Bloomberg reports that two firms, Goldman Sachs and IDC, both cut PC shipment figures significantly. Goldman said that during the fourth quarter, shipments will decline 3 percent compared with the year-ago quarter. The firm originally said shipments would increase 3.1 percent. During the first quarter of 2012, shipments will drop 8.5 percent, though the firm originally said shipments would rise 4 percent.

IDC said shipments will decline between 2.2 percent and 3.4 percent during this quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2010. Initially, the firm said growth would be 5.1 percent. The first quarter of 2012 may see a drop of 1.8 percent to 13.4 percent. Initial estimates were for a gain of 8.2 percent.

Similar shortages were forecast in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan during the spring. Creative COW put the two events into perspective. After looking back on the early catastrophe, the site looked ahead to the possible impact of the floods:

Thailand as a country is the second-largest manufacturer of drives in the world. Western Digital, Hitachi, Seagate, Toshiba and Samsung all have a significant portion of their production coming out of Thailand. Thailand has ground to a halt. It could take another 4-6 weeks until the flood waters recede. While most of the finished goods were pulled out in time, the same can't be said for the facilities themselves.

There is a ray of sunshine, however. The earthquake and tsunami, at least according to IHS iSuppli, didn't lead to the expected shortages. The firm, according to an item posted at Digi-Key's website, said that hard disk drive shipments rose 4.1 percent in the third quarter. In raw numbers, shipments increased from 160.5 million to 167.1 million between the second and third quarters

If shipments do fall because of the floods-or the overall stress to the supply chain of the floods following the earthquake and tsunami-another winner may emerge. Wrote Arik Hesseldahl at AllThingsD:

One question I have is whether this could turn out to be an opportunity for the solid-state storage companies - the main supplier that comes to mind here is Samsung - that are popularizing flash-memory based storage drives in PCs like the MacBook Air and other machines. Will they boost production to fill that gap?

The bottom line is that the natural disasters of the past year may have an impact on the availability of drives. This could impact the replacement cycle of PCs and other devices that use those drives. This won't definitely happen, but prudent IT planners should prepare as if it will.

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