Thailand Floods May Cause Problems for Cloud Computing

Usually, it’s the presence of clouds that affect precipitation. However, this time round, it is rains, and the consequent floods, that may end up affecting the cloud. By cloud, of course, I mean the virtual world of cloud computing and not some fluffy ball of water vapor in the sky.

As you must know by now, cloud computing does not mean there’s a tangible substance called the cloud – it is merely a construct that resides in cyberspace and is powered by tangible servers in the real world (See: What Is Cloud Computing? Yes, another Perspective). Of course, some believe otherwise, but thankfully they are in a minority (See: Taking “Cloud Computing” Too Literally: Hilarious Comments by Indian Anti-Graft Crusader).

In a situation strangely reminiscent of the improbable hypothesis referenced in the aforementioned article, torrential rains have actually ended up affecting cloud computing. However, unlike the grim prognosis of that article (“today the entire technical system, Google, is cloud based… But there is no study on what happens in a storm… cloud formatting will go wrong”), the problem is not as severe.

Experts agree that existing services may be affected, but will not suffer catastrophic failure. This is because the global manufacturing of hard drives that are at the heart of servers powering the cloud have been severely affected by the closing of more 1,000 factories in Thailand due to floods. According to storage giant Western Digital, 40% of the world’s hard drives are produced in Thailand. Now, this may be reduced by 25-40%, according to research firm IDC.

You really can’t grow and expand the Internet without the expansion of storage hard drives. There are an awful a lot of ramifying impacts that are being incompletely considered here,” explained John Monroe, research vice president at research firm Gartner. He mentioned that companies like Google and Facebook who store enormous amounts of data in the cloud, and by extension, in hard drives, will be affected.

It’s not only cloud computing companies facing Nature’s brunt; since hard drives are integral to every computer, from PCs to servers, many more will be affected. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple which recently launched cloud storage with iCloud (See: Taking a Closer Look at the iCloud ), remarked last month that the company sources “many components from Thailand and have multiple factories that supply these components,” adding that Apple’s line of Macintosh computers will be affected. However, Mac Book Air laptops, which use solid state flash drives, will be immune to this disruption. Considering that flash memory is currently quite expensive as compared to hard drives (retail price of a 500GB hard disk drive is about $80; the retail price of a 64GB solid-state drive is about $130), it is still a niche product.

Some other companies that have gone public with their concerns are PC giant Lenovo, data storage companies Seagate and Emulex, precision optical equipment manufacturer Emcore, networking equipment maker Digi International and semiconductor company LSI Corp.

By Sourya Biswas

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