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Cloud company foraged for hard drives to stay afloat

Backblaze employees banned by COSTCO after PLUNDERING stores

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When floods hit Thailand last year and crimped the global supply of hard drives, US-based cloud storage company Backblaze feared it would run out of storage.

The company's fears weren't unfounded - it uses 50TB a day – so it sensibly tried to buy up as many drives as possible to build a buffer against the shortage. That effort quickly revealed that hard disk prices has soared to levels that weren't sustainable in the context of the company's US$5.00/month all-you-can-eat cloud backup plan.

In a blog post detailing what happened next, the company explains how it found retailers Costco and Best Buy still had plenty of hard drives, albeit external drives it would need to “shuck” to reveal the disk within. Doing so was still cheaper than paying inflated prices for internal disks, so the company resolved to visit the stores daily and “buy as many 3 TB drives as possible.”

Backblaze called this organised scrounging “drive farming” and established a roster of sorts to visit stores around San Francisco bay regularly.

All went well until, as the drive shortage hit home, employees were banned by some stores.

Backblaze then staged a “crisis meeting” at which it was decided to “scale drive farming and the idea of friends and family drive farming was born.” That scheme worked as follows:

“Emails and text messages were sent, phones calls were made, Facebook posts were posted, tweets were tweeted, you name it – the call went out to friends and family – buy hard drives and send them to Backblaze, NOW."

The company even considered a cross-country road trip to find disks all over the USA.

We won't spoil the whole post, but suffice to say the effort went well beyond Backblaze's Silicon Valley home and eventually resulted in 5.5 petabytes of disk reaching its offices. That was more than enough to keep it afloat until drive prices returned to more comfortable levels.

The company has also been good enough to recognise that its difficulties can't be compared to those of the Thai people, and urges a donation to Give2Asia or another charity.

It also says the lessons from its farming expedition continue to pay off, as:

“On July 25th of this year, Backblaze took $5M in venture funding. At the same time, Costco was offering 3TB external drives for $129 about $30 less than we could get for internal drives. The limit was five drives per person. Needless to say, it was a deal we couldn’t refuse. Old habits die hard.”

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