Thailand is 20% underwater, and is second-biggest hard drive producer after China. Now do you care about the floods?

A boy and girl give rides for a fee to flooded residents in Bangkok November 2, 2011. The floods began in July and have devastated large parts of the central Chao Phraya river basin, killed nearly 400 people and disrupted the lives of more than two million. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

There may be a shortage of hard drives for the big Christmas retail season because of the catastrophic floods in Thailand. By some estimates the total global output of magnetic hard drives could fall as much as 30% in the final three months of 2011.

Production of laptops and other devices that use these drives may be impacted through early 2012. Second only to China, Thailand is one of the world's top hard drive producing countries. Western Digital and Seagate now produce about 90% of hard drives, and both have affected plants in Thailand. Western Digital's factory is literally underwater.

What stock remains will grow more expensive, with price increases of 20-40%, as demand outstrips supply.

Car production is affected too, as many auto makers use electronic parts made in Thailand. Toyota will slow production of cars in the US because of a shortage of Thai-made parts. Shipments of cameras will be impacted, too—and likely, their price.

(notes and links from Ned Sublette)

A flood victim cycles through the water using a homemade tall three-wheeler in Bang Phlad district, Bangkok October 30, 2011. Thailand's worst floods in half a century have killed 381 people since July, wiped out a quarter of the main rice crop in the world's biggest rice exporter, forced up global prices of computer hard drives and caused delays in global auto production after destroying industrial estates. (REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad)


  1. One of the pitfalls of outsourcing and using a just-in-time supply chain.  
    Efficiency and lowering costs to boost profits is wonderful, but a company that does this is assuming risk.

    Sure, the Henry Ford model is less efficient, but he could continue making cars for a year or two if someone went on strike or if a factory was flooded (assuming that the Rouge Plant was still operational)

      1. “nox 49 minutes ago in reply to CSBD So you would rather be using state of the art  hard drives from a year or two ago?”

        I would love to be using technology that is ONLY two years old at work.

  2. One large store around here had signs up last week advising that HD sales were restricted to 1 per customer.  Shelves were almost barren of internal drives, but they had pallet loads of externals.

    I picked the wrong week to build a NAS box.

    1. I think next week is going to be the wrong week.  Poor Thailand!  When I was leaving last year I could see smoke rising from central Bangkok, and just as they are starting to recover and re-establish their democracy, this.

      1. …just as they are starting to recover and re-establish their democracy…

        I’m not sure that voting in as PM the inexperienced younger sister of the corrupt, exiled former PM supports that statement.

        1. I’m not sure voting for the “wrong” person disqualifies a country from being a democracy, but the Thai military certainly agreed with you.

          1. I’m not sure voting for the “wrong” person disqualifies a country from being a democracy, but the Thai military certainly agreed with you.

            I’m not sure that posing corrupt, human rights abusing oligarchy and military coup as the only alternatives does much credit to the idea of democracy.

          2. I don’t like George Bush either, but people voted for him.  If you think there was election fraud, that’s one thing, but people died fighting for that election to happen.

          3. I don’t like George Bush either, but people voted for him. If you think there was election fraud, that’s one thing, but people died fighting for that election to happen.

            First of all, were you on Mars in 2000? People didn’t vote for him. He lost the election and the Supreme Court gave him the Presidency anyway. Democracy failed spectacularly.

            Second, are we not allowed to criticize shitty, corrupt oligarchies that subvert real democracy in favor of nepotism and cronyism? Does your embrace include former KGB boss Vladimir Putin doing an end run around term limits so that he can rule Russia again officially (as opposed to ruling it with his hand up Medvedev’s ass)? How about the kleptocratic Bhutto dynasty?

          4. Second, are we not allowed to criticize shitty, corrupt oligarchies that subvert real democracy in favor of nepotism and cronyism?

            Is that what you believe I said?

            Also, 2004.

        2. Any elected official, no matter how corrupt, is more democratic than an absolute monarch with a personality cult and his pet military junta. Oh, and were I in Thailand, that sentence would get me sent to jail even today. It is a pity that no one more honest than Thaksin-and-family could emerge to challenge the status quo, but this is mostly the result of the royalists stifling all opposition they can (and Thaksin simply being too rich to completely stifle). It’s definitely a step in the right direction for them – Thaksin&Co. would definitely be less able to stifle grass-roots opposition to themselves in the future.

    2. 1. Open the external drive case.
      2. Remove the internal drive.
      3. You now have an internal drive :D

      Last year my mom needed a specific digital camera but the store was out. Turning around, I noticed in the bargain bin the store had the exact camera but it was a Christmas promo and cost 50% of the usual model’s price. The only difference between the actual cameras: Christmas model was a delightful red.

      Moral of the story: a little knowledge and creativity are useful to the consumer. Even if the consumer is otherwise incompetent and could not make the items in a million-bajillion years.

      1. I remember in university when my roommate removed his “External CD Writer” from the case and installed it in his computer.  He was also able to buy an internal drive, and put it back into that case.  I’m pretty savvy with computers, but for some reason it never dawned on me before that that the external version was just an internal drive with a case and a little controller to convert the IDE signal to USB.  Similarly, I don’t think that most people realize that to get an external drive you can just take an internal drive and hook it up to a case you can get at your local computer store for $10 to $15.  Often quite cheaper to go this route.

  3. “Now do you care about the floods?” is right… 350-400 people have died so far (more than in the recent earthquake in Turkey), and many provinces will remain inundated for weeks. Central Bangkok has largely been spared, but at the expense of the surrounding (poorer) areas (and even then a lot of more central stuff in Bangkok is getting flooded as well, and the main flooding is far from over).

    @georgebkk:twitter on twitter has good coverage (in English) and lots of links to photos every day – generally not from photojournalists, but from regular people on the ground. There has been some good coverage from photojournalists as well, of course.

    I saw this epic photo on twitter, rt’d by William Gibson, with the caption “this guy literally dont give a fuck”: which I think goes well with any story covering the flooding.

  4. Some shops are already price gouging this in anticipation of shortages. 2TB drives that were only $70 a few weeks ago on Newegg is now $230.

  5. I worry about the disease that will spread with this flooding.  Wondering what manufacturers will do to protect their workforce from it.  Prolly nothing. 

    1. Some flooding is expected in Bangkok every year at the height of monsoon season: it certainly did when I was there in ’86 (thanks, I know, I don’t look it, do I?).  Bangkok is pretty close to sea level, so the combination of rain/upstream flooding/spring tides will often give you scenes like the ones above.  Lots of people in the city have boats, and life continues at a somewhat slower pace.  These floods must be something else altogether.
      As to disease, while that was enough to keep me out of the water, the 10’+ snakes flushed out of the sewer system would have done the trick by themselves…

      1.  ” These floods must be something else altogether.”

        43% more rain than average , an area the size of Conn. 9 feet deep.

  6. No hard drives? My… my god – what will we use to store the porn on? Will somebody please tell me that? Where will be store the porn?! Quick, men, to Thailand!

  7. Shortage of Hard Drives for the Christmas Season… That’s exactly what the flooding is all about. Just like the Japanese tsunami was all about component shortage, and the uprising in Libya was all about gasoline shortages. You’re on fire today, BB. Enjoy the Amnesty International Conference, which may deal with sneaker & t-shirt shortages…

    1. There’s nothing wrong with tying the impact of flooding to the consequences for techies    Not everything has to be highlighted in its most prominent context.  If you want an article discussing the humanitarian impact, check a different news source.  I already knew plenty about the flooding, and half my family lives in Thailand.  I wouldn’t have read this if not for the link to hard drives.

  8. wasn’t the shipping for the December season all done in August-September? isn’t that surge making its way through the U.S. domestic logistics system already?

  9. Well, Bangkok was right to strongly recommend the citizens evacuate (and unilaterally declare a 5 day “holiday” to encourage people to leave).

    I’m not interested how the hard drive shortage will affect consumers, but it may be interesting how it is affecting companies pushing cloud storage solutions.

    Being crass and ignoring the human toll, there are also other things besides hard drives that are also being affected. Canon, Nikon, and Sony are also forecasting shortages of many cameras- one of Sony’s image sensor plants seems to be under water.

  10. 100,000 years of evolution and the flooding of a flood plain is still something we don’t plan for. I hope everyone is okay.

  11. Yes, I care.  I care deeply for their plight.  I, however, pay some of the highest taxes in Europe and I would anticipate that the UK government is busy getting supplies and aid to these people.  

    As to the HDD thing?  Christmas?  It’s already happening.  2TB drives are now pushing £130 a pop.  Double what they were even a week ago.  £40 used to get you in the 500Gb range, now you’re looking at 160Gb… maybe.  Frankly, I find the price gouging intolerable, especially as I’ve watched the same 120 drives get shuffled between vendors on Amazon with a price hike at each stage. 

  12. That trike is incredible.  Amazing resourcefulness in the face of adversity.  We might all be needing one like it in the future.

    1. The trike is awesome.  What I wonder is, did the guy already have a trike with monster-truck suspension, just waiting for the opportunity to use it?  Or did he see that his city was getting flooded, and his response was “I’m gonna build a big damn trike”?

      Either way, I am duly impressed

      1. I was wondering the same thing myself, (and whether the power plant is a waterproof from below like  certain dirtbikes etc.) – I lean towards it was already made, but it s clearly an off road design – but its so perfect for the purpose – 2 wheeler will not cut it in any kind of high water, not for any kind of distance anyways, 4 wheeler is going to have a lot more complex steering mechanism, as well as getting more resistance on 2 wheels instead of one.  So it amazes me how for this level of water its so effective.  The only thing I could say is that the wheels could have been higher (but not by much), like mudrunners.  In my area a lot of people have started to use adapted gas powered bikes (including one old old Jesse James Wal Mart special bike with an actual gastank welded in instead of the proxy).  Its not hard to see where it would go if the trend was more common.

  13. I guess I’ll be forced to donate the money I was going to spend on a hard drive. What a hard knocks life we have!

  14. Glad I read the comments on this article, or I never would have learned that apparently America is immune to weather.

  15. Flood plains are some of the best real estate in the world, albeit with a problem that only crops up once in a while.

  16. I had a hard drive failure on my storage drive the other week.  I picked up a few new ones from Newegg.

    For 3, 2TB drives I paid $80 (x2) and $120.  They are now listed at $229 and $299. 
    I paid 259 total for all three drives with a $20 coupon.  Now on Newegg for $760.

    Edit: Also, how many times do you think that dude’s flip flop has fallen off and into the water while he was pedalling his trike?

  17. Well, well, lucky I hung onto those old 250GB IDE mechanisms I’ve had lying around. So, what are you prepared to offer? Do I hear $300? $500? Those bits aren’t going to store themselves, people. Tell you what, first one to offer me $750 gets a 40GB laptop drive from an old iBook thrown in for free. And I’m robbing myself …

  18. No, not really.  Other than to point out that the US should be manufacturing more hard drives from a national security related policy perspective.

  19. I guess no available hard drives would be annoying… If you needed a harddrive.

    Good thing I’ve still got somewhere in the neighborhood of four terabytes of empty space. Thailand will be back on their feet soon enough, worry not data-storage seekers, the hard drives must flow!

    Too bad about the floods though – 400+ people dead is nothing to shake a stick at. That’s terrible.

  20. who cares about the hard drives, that trike is awesome.  Do people care?  hmmm let’s take a look at Haiti today after the quake….nope.  I suppose I could make some snarky comments about 1st world “problems” and the endemic disease of consumerism and the increasing narcissism that makes caring about anything 3 seconds out of the periphery of pop culture impossible and how it’s destroying the soul of humanity, and the cohesiveness of civilization, thereby raising the price of hard drives, but that would be pretty obvious.

  21. If Thailand lowered its taxes and abolished workplace safety rules the Invisible Hand of the Market would drive the floods away. Or lift everybody’s boat. Or hand out free sandbags or something.

    1. I’m sure that thorium power plants, zero point energy, and a sixty foot tall robot Nikola Tesla that can never die would be much more effective than just the Invisible Hand alone.  I mean, if you’re going to invoke the power of Internet memes you should go all out.

  22. Brown people in “distant” country suffering. Newsworthy. attention grabbing, cause for action? Not much….
    Possible computer part shortage? Now that’s worrisome…

    Why not consider foregoing that next upgrade and donating instead?

  23. I know it sounds crass to point out a hard drive and camera shortage, but with the former…it’s possible that this could deep-six the global economy again.  How much humanitarian aid will be available if we plunge into a global depression?

    OK, less alarmist, this will likely mean that enterprise buyers and consumers will just have to pull back on hard drive purchases, get innovative, and who knows, this might help drive SSD prices down even further than they were expected to go.  Too late to buy stock in SSD suppliers? :->

    I’ll go over the finances with my wife, and see if we can donate.  I’d feel horrible about not doing it if we can; when we had epic flooding this spring, a large amount of money came out of Japan.  Yes, earthquake-ravaged Japan.

  24. I spent some time living out there a few years ago, and my heart goes out to anyone caught in these floods. 

    I appreciate what you’re trying to do with the title of this post, but in all honesty it does come across as a little conceited.

    1. Well, that, and, many people get their news from mainstream sources. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but it has been a busy year just on the major disaster front. Related, how many people didn’t give a crap about the US southern drought, or the midwest flooding? You will, this winter, every time you go to the grocery store. Back to Thailand, there is a chance some peoples first exposure to the flooding will be high hard drive prices, if their grocery bill leaves money for such frivolities. They may have been moved to then find out why those prices are so high, and act for humanitarian reasons…but will be condemned for not caring until hard drive prices rose.

  25. Wow, I love how most of the commentators here are clearly more interested in their stupid machines than what’s happening to the humans that make them. And what’s at stake? Your ability to buy more hard drives, as if that’s not something we already have a shitload of all over? Can’t deal with a used craigslist drive for a while? Way to prove every Western stereotype correct!

    Don’t worry, when the shit hits the U.S. no one’s going to care about you, either…

  26. Here we go again with the ‘one-fifth of the country is underwater’ meme. It last ran rampant in August 2010 when it was applied to Pakistan. Some newspapers had it as high as one-quarter! Six months ago some scientists determined the actuals: 4.7% of Pakistan had been under water (compared to the usual 3.1%).

  27. Not one bite. I have nearly 3 terabytes of storage, all of which is multiply backed up here and on nonlocal servers. Maybe if I were building a new computer I’d be alarmed, but as such…

  28. This is probably a dumb question and I don’t mean to sound callous towards those in Thailand suffering right now — let’s all help out however we can — but is there a reason we don’t make this stuff in the USA? Other than, ya know, that whole cheap labor thing?

  29. Gee, it’s almost like the environment can effect the economy.  But we all know that that can’t be true as the economy happens only inside computers on Wall Street.  Just ask any politician and they’ll explain to you how every single penny spend on this environment thingee (wherever *that* is) is a penny stolen from the economy.

  30. This is why I hate the mainstream media.  I don’t give a shit about Kim Kardashian.  I want to know more about this!

  31. Since the start of the rainy season it has emerged that corruption, cronyism and nepotism led to building tenders being handed out to the wrong people and flood prevention projects being built in the wrong places. The impact of the flooding is a consequence of poor leadership that extends as far back as Thaksin, into the Democrat party, then again into the current Pheu Thai party and PM Yingluck. Actually, corruption is almost a political institution here and the only truly incorruptible governments here have been military Juntas. It’s a rock and a hard place in terms of which you’d prefer to run the country. That said, Thais are resilient through imperturbability.

  32. Why is it that China, and the third world countries have all the shiny new buildings and infrastructure, while the USA mostly crumbles?  Riddle me that.

  33. It’s a legit angle for a news post, but any headline that assumes the reader is an unfeeling consumerist drone who needs to be jolted out of their complacency by the righteous author is going to be self-defeating.

  34. There is a very interesting article about the floods, by exiled Thai dissident, socialist and academic, Giles Ji Ungpakorn here

    He argues that the response to the floods has been made worse by the nature of the Thai government and their priorities. However he also argues that some of the opposition, the Red Shirts, have fallen for conspiracy theories about the cause of the flood. Without some knowledge of Thai politics over the last few years, the article is a little confusing, but there are other links to Ungpakorn’s writings that illuminate the history abit. Nonetheless its an interesting insight into the situation there.

  35. The first day there was news about the flooding, my office stocked up on SSDs. We knew it would likely be difficult to get more for a while. I feel a little selfish that that was my first thought. But oddly, the mainstream media hasn’t had a whole lot on the flooding.

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