Setting up a AWS EC2 Mac

I recently needed to debug some problems running a Kubernetes app on a Mac. The problem is I don’t have a Mac or easy access to one that I can have full control over to poke and prod at things. (I also am not the biggest fan of OSx, but that’s a separate story)

Recently AWS started to offer Mac Mini EC2 instances. These differ a little from most normal EC2 instances as they are an actual dedicated bit of hardware that you have exclusive access to rather than a VM on hardware shared with others.

Because of the fact it’s a dedicated bit of hardware the process for setting one up is a little different.

Starting the Instance

First you probably need to request to have a limit increasing on your account. as the default limit for dedicated hardware looks to be 0. This limit is also per region so you will need to ask for the update in every one you would need. To request the update use the AWS Support Center, user the “Create Case” button and select “Service Limit Increase”. From the drop down select “EC2 Dedicated Hosts”, then the region and you want to request and update to the mac1 instance type and enter the number of concurrent instances you will need. It took a little time for my request to be processed, but I did submit it on Friday afternoon and it was approved on Sunday morning.

Once it has been approved you can create a new “Dedicated Hosts” instance on the EC2 console, with a “Instance Family” of mac1 and a “Instance Type” of mac1.metal. You can pick your availability zone (not all Regions and AZ have all instance type so it might not be possible to allocate a mac in every zone). I also suggest you tick the “Instance auto-placement” box.

Once that is complete you can actually start allocate an EC2 instance on this dedicated host. You get to pick which version of OSx you want to run. Assuming you only have one dedicated host and you ticked the auto-placement box then you shouldn’t need to pick the hardware you want to run the instance on.

The other main things to pick as you walk through the wizard are the amount of disk space (default is 60gb), which security policy you want (be sure to pick one with ssh access) and which SSH key you’ll use to log in.

The instances do take a while to start, but given it’s doing a fresh OSx install the hardware this is probably not a surprise. But once the console says it’s up and both the status checks are passing you’ll be able to ssh into the box.

Enabling a GUI

Once logged in you can do most things from the command line, but I needed to run Docker, and all the instructions I could find online said I needed to download Docker Desktop and install that via the GUI.

I found the following gist which helped.

  • Fist up set a password for the ec2-user
    sudo passwd ec2-user
  • Second enabled the the VNC
% sudo /System/Library/CoreServices/RemoteManagement/ARDAgent.app/Contents/Resources/kickstart \
-activate -configure -access -on \
-configure -allowAccessFor -specifiedUsers \
-configure -users ec2-user \
-configure -restart -agent -privs -all

% sudo /System/Library/CoreServices/RemoteManagement/ARDAgent.app/Contents/Resources/kickstart \
 -configure -access -on -privs -all -users ec2-user

You can then add -L 5900:localhost:5900 to the ssh command that you use to log into the mac. This will port forward the VNC port to localhost.

VNCViewer or Remmina can be used to start a session that gives full access to the Mac’s gui.

Expand the disk

If you have allocated more than the default 60gb then you will need to expand the disk to make full use of it.

% PDISK=$(diskutil list physical external | head -n1 | cut -d" " -f1)
APFSCONT=$(diskutil list physical external | grep "Apple_APFS" | tr -s " " | cut -d" " -f8)
% sudo diskutil repairDisk $PDISK
# Accept the prompt with "y", then paste this command
% sudo diskutil apfs resizeContainer $APFSCONT 0

Add tools

The instance comes with Homebrew pre-setup so you can install nearly anything else you might need.

Shut it down when you are done

Mac EC2 instances really are not cheap ($25.99 per day…) so remember to kill it off when you are done.

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