New – Use Amazon EC2 Mac Instances to Build & Test macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and watchOS Apps
Throughout the course of my career I have done my best to stay on top of new hardware and software. As a teenager I owned an Altair 8800 and an Apple II. In my first year of college someone gave me a phone number and said “call this with modem.” I did, it answered “PENTAGON TIP,” and I had access to ARPANET!
I followed the emerging PC industry with great interest, voraciously reading every new issue of Byte, InfoWorld, and several other long-gone publications. In early 1983, rumor had it that Apple Computer would soon introduce a new system that was affordable, compact, self-contained, and very easy to use. Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh in January 1984 and my employer ordered several right away, along with a pair of the Apple Lisa systems that were used as cross-development hosts. As a developer, I was attracted to the Mac’s rich collection of built-in APIs and services, and still treasure my phone book edition of the Inside Macintosh documentation!
New Mac Instance
Over the last couple of years, AWS users have told us that they want to be able to run macOS on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). We’ve asked a lot of questions to learn more about their needs, and today I am pleased to introduce you to the new Mac instance!
Powered by Mac mini hardware and the AWS Nitro System, you can use Amazon EC2 Mac instances to build, test, package, and sign Xcode applications for the Apple platform including macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and Safari. The instances feature an 8th generation, 6-core Intel Core i7 (Coffee Lake) processor running at 3.2 GHz, with Turbo Boost up to 4.6 GHz. There’s 32 GiB of memory and access to other AWS services including Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), Amazon FSx for Windows File Server, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), AWS Systems Manager, and so forth.
On the networking side, the instances run in a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and include ENA networking with up to 10 Gbps of throughput. With EBS-Optimization, and the ability to deliver up to 55,000 IOPS (16KB block size) and 8 Gbps of throughput for data transfer, EBS volumes attached to the instances can deliver the performance needed to support I/O-intensive build operations.
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 (AWS 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).
You can use these instances to create build farms, render farms, and CI/CD farms that target all of the Apple environments that I mentioned earlier. You can provision new instances in minutes, giving you the ability to quickly & cost-effectively build code for multiple targets without having to own & operate your own hardware. You pay only for what you use, and you get to benefit from the elasticity, scalability, security, and reliability provided by EC2.
EC2 Mac Instances in Action
As always, I asked the EC2 team for access to an instance in order to put it through its paces. The instances are available in Dedicated Host form, so I started by allocating a host:
Then I launched my Mac instance from the command line (console, API, and CloudFormation can also be used):
$ aws ec2 run-instances --region us-east-1 \ --instance-type mac1.metal \ --image-id ami-023f74f1accd0b25b \ --key-name keys-jbarr-us-east --associate-public-ip-address --placement Tenancy=host
I took Luna for a very quick walk, and returned to find that my instance was ready to go. I used the console to give it an appropriate name:
Then I connected to my instance:
From here I can install my development tools, clone my code onto the instance, and initiate my builds.
I can also start a VNC server on the instance and use a VNC client to connect to it:
Note that the VNC protocol is not considered secure, and this feature should be used with care. I used a security group that allowed access only from my desktop’s IP address:
I can also tunnel the VNC traffic over SSH; this is more secure and would not require me to open up port 5900.
Things to Know
Here are a couple of fast-facts about the Mac instances:
AMI Updates – We expect to make new AMIs available each time Apple releases major or minor versions of each supported OS. We also plan to produce AMIs with updated Amazon packages every quarter.
Dedicated Hosts – The instances are launched as EC2 Dedicated Hosts with a minimum tenancy of 24 hours. This is largely transparent to you, but it does mean that the instances cannot be used as part of an Auto Scaling Group.
Purchase Models – You can run Mac instances On-Demand and you can also purchase a Savings Plan.
Apple M1 Chip – EC2 Mac instances with the Apple M1 chip are already in the works, and planned for 2021.
Launch one Today
You can start using Mac instances in the US East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland), and Asia Pacific (Singapore) Regions today, and check out this video for more information!
PS – If you are a game developer (or aspire to be one), be sure to read How ‘Bout Them Apples: Unveiling EC2 Mac Instances on AWS for Game Developers.