The impending hard drive shortage -- and possible price hikes

Flooding near Bangkok has taken about 25 percent of the world's hard disk manufacturing capacity offline

If you're going to need hard drives this year or early next year, it would be smart to get your sources locked in now.

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.

It's not clear whether that will affect the prices you pay. As a testament to adequate supply and lower-than-expected demand, retail prices of hard disks have not taken off: You can still get 1TB and larger SATA drives from popular websites for about the same price now as they were in September. Even if manufactuers hold the line on the product price, it's highly that unlikely disk prices will go down any time soon.

This story, "The impending hard disk shortage -- and possible price hikes," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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