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May 5, 2012

Thankful hard-disk shortage is about over, and counting my blessings


Daily Star

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Well, I'm almost ready to let out a cheer.

The hard-disk shortage is almost over. You may, but most likely not, have heard about the Great Hard Disk Shortage of 2011. So I'll tell you about it.

Last year, way around the world in Thailand, the monsoon season brought horrendous flooding. It was in the news, of course, but you probably didn't notice it much. Those of us in the technology fraternity did, however.

You see, most of the world's hard disks, that are important internal parts of a computer which record data, are made in factories in Thailand.

The flooding was very bad. Sixty-five of Thailand's 77 provinces were declared disaster zones. Almost 1,000 factories were affected. The World Bank estimated that the economic damage was more than $45 billion by the end of last year, most of which was to the manufacturing industry. Seven major industrial estates were flooded by up to 10 feet of water.

It ranked fourth in terms of most costly disasters in history, after the Japanese tsunami, the Kobe earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.

Anyway, hard disk, or hard drive, manufacturing companies, and _ to make things worse _ other companies that supplied parts to the hard drive manufacturers, were both clobbered.

So, the supply of new hard disks flowing into the market was greatly reduced. As you would expect, their price was impacted by the shortage.

To give you an example, last fall shortly before the floods got so bad, I purchased two new 750-gigabyte internal hard disks for a server I was creating. They cost about $65 each. I was very pleased with the value I was getting, as being an old-timer, I can remember when a 30-gigabyte disk went for more than a couple hundred dollars.

Not too long after that I was considering getting some more for another server I was going to make, and checked the price again. It had gone up quite a bit. I decided to wait, instead of ordering them, as my plan was to create a RAID array, and I needed three or four of the disks. I kept checking the price of the same model disk every week or so, and the price kept going up and up.

The price for that disk I was using as an example finally peaked at about $190, close to three times what I originally paid. Quite a difference, a flood can make.

I have been continually checking to see when the price will go back down enough so that I want to buy some more. It has been going back down, a little at a time, as the affected factories have come back on line with production.

My buying threshold may be reached soon. So far, I've seen equivalent drives down to about $75, but not the particular model I was watching. Of course, that may never actually happen, as the particular model may be discontinued by then. Things like particular models change a lot, and quickly, in this field.

But, the big thing is that it seems like the big shortage is easing up, thank goodness.

Yes, the Great Hard Disk Shortage is coming to an end, finally.

Upon reflection, I have to say that it will be a big thing for me, of course, but somehow I think that my problem was still minor, when compared to the people living in Thailand.

I could do without the disks for the time being, as what I was going to do is not a critical thing, really. But people in Thailand lost hundreds of their friends and relatives, and had to deal with the aftermath of a flood.

In addition to celebrating the supply of disks, I think I should also be counting my blessings.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by email at techgp@thedailystar.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.