Disk drive shipments rebound from Thai floods

Windows 8 and Ultrabooks are expected to give hard drive sales a boost, but prices will remain high and not fall to pre-flood levels until 2014

A year after a flooding disaster in Thailand took out a large portion of hard disk drive production, the industry has fully recovered with shipments to the computer market expected to hit a record level this year.

According to market research firm IHS iSuppli, hard drive sales have rebounded, driven by demand in the enterprise market as well as the upcoming arrival of the Windows 8 operating system next month.

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HDD shipments in 2012 for the overall computer market, including PCs, are forecast to reach 524 million drives, up 4.3 percent percent from 502.5 million units last year, according to an IHS report. Hard drive prices, however, will remain high, and prices are not expected to fall to pre-flood levels until 2014, IHS stated in a report earlier this year.

In the wake of the flooding in Thailand last year, hard drive prices rose to an average of $66 in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 28 percent leap from the $51 average price in the previous quarter, according to IHS. The average price held steady at $66 in the first quarter of 2012 and is expected to decline only marginally, to about $65, in the second quarter.

While the number of hard drives shipping this year will top an all-time record, shipments are expected continue to rise briskly over the next four years. In 2016, hard drive shipments will hit 575.1 million units, IHS said.

"The forecast includes drive shipments only to the PC computer segment, which includes client hard disks for desktops and notebooks, and enterprise drives for servers and storage systems. The forecast does not include drive shipments for other markets, such as in the automotive industry, or for external hard drives or DVR devices.

In contrast to the glowing performance of drives for the PC space, annual drives shipments for consumer-related products will decline this year from 2011 levels. "HDD shipments for computers will overcome a sluggish third quarter to reach record levels in 2012," said Fang Zhang, analyst for storage systems at IHS. "The yearly rise in HDD shipments is the result of greater demand from the consumer and enterprise PC segments, both of which continue to clamor for disk space in order to hold storage-intensive media like music, videos and other forms of social media content."

Another major contributor to drive shipment growth is the Windows 8 operating system, which is expected to be launched in October, and the subsequent purchase of PCs with the new OS.

Hard drives sales will also get a boost from Ultrabooks, including machines that use hybrid drives, which combine spinning disk with solid state storage. Those drive shipments are flat now but will take off in the fourth quarter of this years, according to IHS.

This past year, Seagate, which had been the only maker of hybrid drives for laptops, was joined by Western Digital and Toshiba. Both companies announced they expect to ship products next year.

The Windows 8 launch and Ultrabooks are "believed to be the best hope by the beleaguered PC sector to take on smartphones and tablets such as the iPad from Apple Inc.," IHS stated.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Disk drive shipments rebound from Thai floods" was originally published by Computerworld.


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