Regular computer hard drives are still being sold by the truckload in desktop computers, laptops, set-top boxes, and external cases – but according to storage giant Western Digital, the hard drive market is seeing lower demand overall. Solid state drives have started to pick up steam in the market, and even WD has gotten in the game recently with their new Green and Blue series with 3D TLC flash memory. If you’re still a hard drive manufacturer, you’re living on borrowed time – hard drives are now either secondary storage mediums or work as cold storage, and they’re probably the cheapest they’ll ever be to make now. It’s enough that WD’s executives have taken the decision to start plans to scale down their production, starting in 2019.
According to reports from The Register, the company recently took the decision to shut down their last remaining hard drive plant in Malaysia, putting the jobs of at least 13,000 people at risk. This is the last of two operations they had in Malaysia to manufacture hard drives; the other factory belonged to WD subsidiary Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) and was decommissioned and sold in 2016. WD has other factories in Malaysia that still make crucial components for their hard drives, as well as at least two locations that work on the company’s flash storage lines. A company spokesperson issued the following press statement to The Register:
In response to declining long-term demand for client HDDs, Western Digital has taken steps to rationalize its HDD manufacturing operations globally. The company will decommission its HDD manufacturing facility in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, by the end of calendar 2019. This transition will be executed in close collaboration with employees, customers, supply partners and other critical stakeholders.
The data technology industry is undergoing substantial change. This market transformation is driving increased adoption of SSDs and NAND flash in traditional HDD applications. The change has contributed to growth in SSD/NAND flash and declining long-term demand for client HDDs. Consequently, Western Digital plans to expand SSD manufacturing in Penang. The company is in the final stages of commissioning its second SSD facility in Penang, which will go into production in the coming months.
In addition, the spokesperson said that employees affected by the factory’s closure will receive assistance during the factory’s final year of operations, during which they may be given severance pay or perhaps upskilling support to allow them to move into WD’s SSD manufacturing plants. Engineers working at the plant will move to WD’s new “Center of Excellence” in Selangor, ensuring that the company’s skill loss isn’t too heavy on the rest of their hard drive manufacturing plants.
For consumers, this means that hard drives are likely to go up in price next year in anticipation of the shutdown. Although WD’s factory is only one of several, its loss will affect global stocks of hard drives and valuable components, which means that both WD and its competitor Seagate are likely to increase prices to make up for the drop in demand. That’s not to say that you should buy those 4TB drives you’ve been eyeing right this second, but buy them before the year ends to avoid needing to pay more.