The instances will use a blend of Mac mini hardware and the AWS Nitro abstraction layer, which will allow macOS 10.14 Mojave and 10.15 Catalina instances to consume other AWS services such as S3, EBS, and EFS.
The instances detail an 8th generation, 6-core Intel Core i7 (Coffee Lake) processor running at 3.2 GHz, with Turbo Boost up to 4.6 GHz, which will allow Amazon EC2 Mac instances to build, test, package, and sign Xcode applications for the Apple platform including macOS, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and Safari.
In a statement, Apple vice president of worldwide product marketing Bob Borchers said that Apple is "thrilled" to make development for Apple's platforms accessible "in new ways."
"Apple's thriving community of more than 28 million developers continues to create groundbreaking app experiences that delight customers around the world. 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."
Amazon vice president of EC2 at AWS David Brown said that developers can focus on creating apps rather than managing infrastructure.
"Our customers tell us they would love to have their Apple build environment integrated with AWS services. With EC2 Mac instances, developers can now provision and access on-demand MacOS compute environments in AWS for the first time, so they can focus on creating groundbreaking apps for Apple's industry-leading platforms, rather than procuring and managing the underlying infrastructure."
Instances of MacOS will have 32GB of memory and be accessible via SSH and as a remote desktop via VNC. Amazon has recommended that if VNC is used, the port be locked down to only allow access from certain IPs or tunnel VNC over SSH.
The new service was designed for AWS customers who are building iOS or Mac apps which is an awful lot of them and want to get rid of physical Mac hardware needed to test how those apps will perform and look across Apple's family of devices, said David Brown, vice president of AWS' flagship EC2 compute service, in an interview.
"When you launch a Mac instance on EC2, it's the same as launching any other EC2 instance," Brown said. "It is the environment that the Apple developer is used to."
AWS currently offers Linux and Windows instances for developers to use as both testing and production computing resources, but this is the first time MacOS will be available on the cloud leader's compute service. It's unlikely that the new Mac instances will run public-facing applications given the relatively limited computing power of the Core i7 compared to the server processors from Intel, AMD and AWS itself that are available in EC2.
But testing environments are very important to the software development process, for obvious reasons. Few companies can ignore the iPhone as a development platform, especially in a pandemic that has reduced human contact, and there are lots of different screen sizes, processors and other components being used every day across the generations of iPhones in service.
And given that Apple doesn't license its operating system to companies to install on their hardware, the Mac Mini has been the cheapest option for a long time. Facebook used Mac Minis as test servers to conduct "hundreds of thousands of tests every hour" on its ubiquitous iPhone app, according to a Wired article.
That article highlights one of the reasons Brown thinks that Apple developers will be interested in the new Mac instances. At large companies like Facebook, developers testing Mac or iOS apps have to compete for a fixed number of Mac testing machines that someone also has to maintain with operating system patches and all the other routine maintenance that comes along with managing your hardware.
"If I'm a team, I don't have to worry about whether another team is currently using that capacity. I can just launch that machine and complete my builds, or run a capacity for me, and shut them down when I don't need them again," Brown said.
AWS will likely add Mac Minis based on Apple's M1 chip at a later date, but apps built and tested using the new Intel-powered instances will work on the newest generation of Apple hardware thanks to Apple's Rosetta 2 emulation technology. The Mac instances will use Mac Minis based around Intel's eighth-generation Core i7 processors running at 3.2GHz and 32GB of memory, and pricing is expected to be released later on Monday.
The macOS instances are available now in the US East (Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), Europe (Ireland), and Asia Pacific (Singapore) regions.