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What you need to know about AWS’s new EC2 Mac instances

Bryson Tyrrell
Bryson Tyrrell

I went to bed early(ish) last night. I woke up this morning and quickly had this reaction.

The Mac comes to EC2

For the first time AWS is offering a Mac EC2 instance type, and not just any slimmed down instance at that! This Mac mini fleet they’ve unleashed provides you dedicated instances with 12 CPU cores, 32 GB of memory, 10 Gbps networking (with 8 Gbps to EBS), logging to CloudWatch, and a swath of pre-installed tools.

The macOS Mojave (10.15.6) and macOS Catalina (10.15.7) AMIs includes the AWS CLI, Command Line Tools for Xcode, SSM Agent, and Homebrew.

This is about CI/CD

That this is a launch on EC2 and not WorkSpaces should clue us all in on the target audience for the new mac1.metal instances: developers.

CI/CD pipelines for Apple apps have been traditionally relegated to the data center (sometimes known as Harry’s desk). Linux and Windows pipelines have mature and diverse cloud offerings to migrate to. On the Apple side there are already several offerings out there (hello, MacStadium) that have been operating for years, but in what is something of a niche market. AWS is, in one respect, playing catch up to them.

To be fair, it wasn’t until the license updates in macOS Big Sur that hosting the Mac was no longer a legal gray area. The newly included section “Leasing for Permitted Developer Services” grants the ability for providers to host the Mac, but with some heavy restriction:

1) The use must solely be for developer services,

2) the lease must be for a minimum period of 24 hours,

3) the lessee must have sole and exclusive control (minus the administrative functions of the providers), and

4) the lessee must agree to all of the software EULAs on the system.

That last section was a bit of paraphrasing and I suggest you give it a read through here.

Cost is the sticking point

AWS’s foray into this world will surely rock the boat, but the limiting factor on adoption is going to be their pricing.

While the dedicated host list price in the US at $1.083 per hour (billed per second) doesn’t sound so bad, we do have to pay for 24 hours upfront (per Apple’s license agreement) which means each instance is going to cost $25.99 just to turn it on, even if only testing it out.

Trying to build software for Macs and iDevices at AWS scale as we’re accustomed to with other platforms gets expensive. Their competition is priced below their initial offering, and it’s a hard sell compared to the TCO of dedicated software build Macs running on-prem. (See EC2 Dedicated Hosts pricing here.)

Still, there’s much to be excited for here. We have access to the macOS platform with deep integration into our AWS environments. Even if we aren’t shifting these workloads to AWS today, we know we can, and we can plan the future accordingly.

Bryson Tyrrell is a Staff Systems Development Engineer at Jamf, advancing the Jamf Cloud platform through serverless development on AWS.

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