Quake & Tech: Cable Damaged, Flash Supply Risk

Friday's earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused limited damage to undersea telecom cables, but phone networks struggled to cope. The disaster may also have implications for the semiconductor industry and the supply of flash memory products.

Rich Miller

March 12, 2011

3 Min Read
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Given the gravity of the destruction and loss of life in Japan, it almost seems trivial to focus on how Friday's earthquake and tsunami affect the technology sector. But communications services are critical to recovery efforts, and invaluable to those outside Japan trying to reach friends and family. In assessing the reports about the tech impact of the disaster, we start with communications:

  • Phone Service Hobbled by Quake - Millions of telephone lines are unavailable across the country, amid conflicting reports that a number of undersea cables have been cut or are reporting faults following the quake. The biggest outage, due to a break in the submarine line, is on a service operated by KDDI that feeds 20 million fixed telephone lines. From The Register.

  • Despite Quake Japan’s Undersea Cables Still Hold - Stephan Beckert, an analyst with TeleGeography, says the quake has likely damaged APCN-2 intra-Asian cable, which forms a ring linking China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan. However, the web traffic in the region has not been disrupted. From GigaOm.

There have been limited reports of problems at data center, which support critical services in communications,healthcare and banking. In at least one case, the quake highlighted the cloud computing services' ability to route around network problems:

  • Salesforce Reroutes Network Traffic - Thus far, we have observed some impact in the network performance of our Trans-Pacific Internet carriers. The salesforce.com Technology Team has re-routed some traffic to minimize the impact of further network issues. Trust.salesforce.com.

  • NTT Data Center Report Issues - Japanese data center operator NTT Communications noted that its hosting and collocation services were out from connection issues following the quake. A handful of other cloud providers and data centers in the region north of Tokyo hardest hit by the tsunami Friday morning had reported connection issues and use of emergency power or storage. From Information Management.

There have been a number of stories focusing on the potential impact on equipment manufacturers, particular in the solid-state drive sector.

  • Japan Quake Rattles Chip Supply Chain - Some manufacturers are likely to be affected by disruptions in transportation of finished goods to airports or ports as well as the movement of employees and supplies to production plants. In addition, some of the biggest makers of consumer-electronics products that use chips are based in Japan, potentially affecting demand for chips. "This could have a pretty substantial impact for the next quarter on the whole supply chain," said Len Jelinek, an analyst at IHS iSuppli, a market-research firm that focuses on the electronics industry. From the Wall Street Journal.

  • Quake hits Toshiba chip plant, shipments - The quake halted production briefly at Toshiba's chip plants on Friday and could delay crucial shipments, although partner SanDisk said output losses were minor. Toshiba Corp and SanDisk share cutting-edge facilities in Yokkaichi, where they make NAND chips increasingly in demand by Apple and other mobile device makers. From Reuters.

  • Japan quake could hit semiconductor production, prices - Because Japan produces more than 40% of the world's NAND flash memory chips -- and 15% of its DRAM -- the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit today could seriously affect worldwide semiconductor supplies, according to research firms. From ComputerWorld.

  • Japanese electronics firms grapple with quake's effects - Japan plays a central role in the high-tech and consumer electronics industries, home to heavyweights such as Sony, Toshiba, and Nintendo. Many U.S. and European tech companies also have significant offices and operations in Japan. Overall, Japanese factories produced $216 billion worth of electronics last year, according to market analysis firm IHS iSuppli. From CNet.

Here's a specific example where technology likely saved lives:.

  • Quake, tsunami test Japan's warning systems - Japan's tsunami warning system worked Friday, with the agency alerting people to imminent tsunamis within three minutes of the quake, and the first waves struck 10 to 15 minutes later. The alert may have saved hundreds of lives, as some residents were able to flee to higher ground. From CNet.

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