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Why AWS is bringing Apple’s MacOS to its cloud

Developers writing software for billions of Apple products need to test that software on Apple hardware, and now they can run those tests on AWS.

Why AWS is bringing Apple’s MacOS to its cloud

Given that Apple doesn't license its operating system to companies to install on their own hardware, the Mac Mini has been the cheapest option for a long time. AWS will likely add Mac Minis based on Apple's M1 chip at a later date.

Image: Apple

AWS is now an Apple customer.

Apple developers will be able to use AWS-managed Mac Minis to test their Mac and iOS applications, AWS announced Monday evening on the first day of the virtual re:Invent event. The new Mac instances, based around Intel's Core i7 processors, will allow AWS customers to run Apple developer tools like Xcode alongside other AWS services such as Elastic Block Storage and Virtual Private Cloud.

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 with Protocol.

"When you launch a Mac instance on EC2, it's exactly 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 actually 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 own 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 from 2013.

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 own 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.

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