The times, they are a-changing
Amazon’s “Mac mini as a service” is available now, reflecting Apple’s continued growth in enterprise computing. It marks the first time AWS has offered to run macOS on demand in the cloud and can be scaled, accessed on a pay-as-you-go basis and lets developers access dozens of additional AWS services.
These Mac instances can be used to build, test, package, and sign Xcode applications for the Apple platform including macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and Safari. The service aims to “speed up the dev lifecycle’ for apps developers on Apple’s platforms.
Here’s what Amazon says:
“Our customers tell us they would love to have their Apple build environment integrated with AWS services,” said David Brown, Vice President of EC2, at AWS.
“With EC2 Mac instances, developers can now provision and access on-demand macOS compute environments in AWS for the first time ever, so they can focus on creating groundbreaking apps for Apple’s industry-leading platforms, rather than procuring and managing the underlying infrastructure.”
And here’s how Apple reacts:
“Apple’s thriving community of more than 28 million developers continues to create groundbreaking app experiences that delight customers around the world,” said Bob Borchers, Vice President, Worldwide Product Marketing, at Apple.
“With the launch of EC2 Mac instances, we’re thrilled to make development for Apple’s platforms accessible in new ways, and combine the performance and reliability of our world-class hardware with the scalability of AWS.”
Why is Amazon doing this?
What’s important is that the service means developers are gaining cloud-based access to a full Mac mini, which should help them to build and test their software. The Macs can be used to build render and CI/CD farms for Apple environments, and to consolidate development of cross-platform Apple, Windows, and Android apps onto AWS to help speed new software to market.
“Mac instances run macOS 10.14 (Mojave) and 10.15 (Catalina) and can be accessed via command line (SSH) or remote desktop (VNC). The AMIs (Amazon Machine Images) for EC2 Mac instances are EC2-optimized and include the AWS goodies that you would find on other AWS AMIs: An ENA driver, the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), the CloudWatch Agent, CloudFormation Helper Scripts, support for AWS Systems Manager, and the ec2-user account. You can use these AMIs as-is, or you can install your own packages and create custom AMIs (the homebrew-aws repo contains the additional packages and documentation on how to do this).”
Amazon will make macOS Big Sur support available at some point. You can access the Mac(s) using both SSH and VNC for remote desktop use.
Here’s a somewhat amusing video Amazon made around the new service.
M1 Macs will be available on AWS next year
The new Macs are based on Intel i7 processors, rather than the powerful M1 Apple now puts inside the Mac mini. Amazon says it will install M1 Mac minis in its data centers early next year. It thinks demand for Intel-based Macs will remain for as long as those Macs are in use.
The AWS Macs hold 32GB memory and are connected to Amazon’s Nitro system.
The company says it will make new AMIs available each time Apple updates its OS. The cost is $1.083 per hour, billed by the second, which is around $26/day.
What customers think
“With a global team of filmmakers, photographers, creatives, and software developers who share the same passion for mobile cinema and content creation, FiLMiC has designed what has become the industry’s most sought-after app that transforms a simple mobile device into a cinematic film camera,” Seth Faxon, iOS Development Manager for FiLMiC, said in an Amazon statement.
“EC2 Mac instances give us the ability to scale up our continuous integration build farm in order to quickly go through development, testing and TestFlight stages. This leads to better velocity and more time working on the fun stuff.”
Growing the market
Amazon’s move to the Mac isn’t unique. It enters a space already occupied by Macstadium, which has offered hosted Mac infrastructure for years, including some AWS integration. The company already offers M1 Mac minis to customers within its 20,000+ fleet.
Writing on Twitter following the news, MacStadium Vice President Brian Stucki said: “Obviously Amazon is a massive fish to enter the sea. Another part of me is very proud to see the Mac mini rise to this level. The platform and vision started so… mini 16-years ago.”
The move reflects the scale of Apple’s rapid growth in the enterprise market.