AWS offers Mac EC2 instances: Here what it means for Apple, Apple Silicon, developers

AWS' move to launch Mac EC2 instances is likely to broaden Apple's developer base, give it an enterprise lift and accelerate Apple Silicon development.

Amazon Web Services move to offer Mac instances on EC2 is likely to be an accelerant for software development on Apple Silicon in 2021. The AWS move is also likely to give Apple heft in the data center. 

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At AWS re:Invent, the cloud giant said it will offer EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) instances to run on demand macOS workloads. The EC2 Mac instances don't cover Apple's M1 processor, which is powering the new MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Mini, until 2021 but it could be a game changer.

What does Apple need to transition away from Intel as fast as possible? Scale so developers can write apps natively for Apple Silicon. AWS will offer that scale.

AWS's blog walks through the Mac instances on-demand detail, but the most important takeaway is this: "EC2 Mac instances with the Apple M1 chip are already in the works and planned for 2021."

According to AWS, the EC2 Mac instances are built on Mac Mini devices and can be used to create apps for Apple devices ranging from iPhone and iPad to Mac and Apple Watch.

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The Mac instances are enabled by AWS' Nitro platform, which rides shotgun with AWS' own Arm based Graviton2 processors.

Here's what AWS' move to support Mac instances means:

  • Developers will soon get MacOS Big Sur instances and M1 support. When that happens development for Apple Silicon is going to expand from Apple's base of 28 million developers to a wider range of folks that may take Apple's environment for a spin. There are minimal upfront costs to develop for Apple Silicon via AWS. 
  • Enterprise developers, likely already on AWS, will also begin using these Apple instances. That move alone will make it easier to scale the Mac environment. Keep in mind that Apple's iOS is already dominant in the enterprise, but Macs aren't. It doesn't hurt to have an enterprise like Intuit as a reference customer for AWS EC2 Mac instances.
  • AWS' EC2 Mac instances are likely to give Apple's developer frameworks including Xcode, Swift, Core ML and Metal a boost.
  • Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform are also likely to offer Mac instances in the future. AWS noted that customers have been asking for Mac instances and the cloud giant will have the field to itself for a bit. 
  • Apple's partnership with AWS is developer facing for now, but Apple's M1 processor sounds like it could be used as a server chip for some workloads. AWS has its own Arm processor, but don't be surprised if Apple gets into the game via cloud partnerships. Would Apple Silicon instances across cloud providers be that surprising? In fact, Barron's mentioned the M1 has server processor potential. AWS could offer Apple Silicon instances just as it does with Intel, AMD and its homegrown Arm processors.

Bottom line: The AWS-Apple combination is off to an interesting start. You can expect more to come.

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