Amazon Web Services and Apple are teaming up to bring modern cloud provisioning capabilities to the macOS platform with the Tuesday morning launch of the new mac1.metal ECS instance type. In some departure from Amazon’s usual cloud fare, the new instance types aren’t virtual machines at all — they’re Mac mini systems, bolted in pairs to 1U rack-mount sleds.
No, these are not Apple Silicon systems – the minis in question are the Intel-based model, each with a Core i7-8700B 6c/12t CPU, 32 GiB RAM and 10 Gbps network interface. The mac1.metal instances do not provide local storage, instead relying on Elastic Block Storage (EBS) accessible at 8 Gbps over high-speed Thunderbolt 3. Customer provisioning, billing, and out-of-band management are handled through the Nitro offboard system from Amazon, in peripherals mounted on the sleds and connected through the minis’ external interfaces.
While there’s no virtualization involved here, the mac1.metal instances can be turned up and down almost as quickly, thanks to the AWS Nitro hardware manager, which is invisible from the customer’s perspective. For someone running a mac1.metal instance, the instance is a perfectly vanilla, brand new Intel Mac mini in every way.
Like other Amazon instance types, they are automatically provisioned with an SSH key pair, and most customers will use the minis just like a Linux VM. But the default image also includes all the normal, more desktop-oriented macOS components – if developers need or want to, they can enable VNC and remotely control their mac1.metal instance just like any other desktop Mac. Customers can also build and deploy their own custom macOS images using AMI.
What are they good for?
The most obvious application for the new instance types is building farms at scale with proper, modern Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment (CI/CD). CI/CD on MacOS is nothing new, of course, but the ability to deploy CI/CD build farms on EC2 means small businesses can get rid of the on-premises closets full of hardware. For larger companies, this means they can deploy wider farms with more instances, as they can be rotated up and down as needed.
Intuit, makers of accounting software including TurboTax, QuickBooks and Mint, has already migrated 80 percent of its production builds from on-premise or traditionally leased hardware to mac.metal instances on EC2. Vice President of Product Development Pratik Wadher says the company is now experiencing “up to 30 percent better performance than our data center infrastructure” thanks to the elastic capacity expansion and high availability across multiple zones enabled in EC2.
Filmic – makers of apps used to record professional videos from iPhones, who you may be familiar with from the iPhone 12 launch videos – has also migrated part of its own CI/CD pipeline to the new macOS EC2 copies. According to Seth Faxon, Filmic’s iOS development manager, the increased farm scale that EC2 enables will lead to “better speed and more time to work on the fun stuff.”