Octopus Deploy vs. and Azure DevOps

You may already use Azure DevOps, or you might be planning your next CI/CD pipeline. Octopus Deploy brings best-in-class deployments, release management, and operations runbooks capabilities, giving your team power far beyond what's included with Azure DevOps. This page explains the difference between the two, and why the best engineering teams use them together.

Developers often ask us why they should use Octopus Deploy over Azure DevOps, especially if they already use Azure DevOps for bug tracking, builds, or source control. This page is our attempt to explain the major differences in capabilities, and why you'd want to use both together.

Obviously, we're biased — we really like Octopus Deploy! But we do want this page to be fair and accurate. If you see anything here that you disagree with, let us know and we'll correct it quickly.

About Azure DevOps

Azure DevOps is Microsoft's end-to-end solution for development teams. It provides numerous features, including source code repository, requirements management, project management, automated builds, lab management, as well as release management.

The Azure DevOps platform started life as Team Foundation Server (TFS) in 2005 and has gone through a number of renames since, including Visual Studio Online and Visual Studio Team System/Services (VSTS).

When Octopus is compared to Azure DevOps, it's really about comparing Octopus Deploy to the Release Management features of Azure DevOps, as Octopus doesn't attempt to do bug tracking, source control, or builds.

The release management story in Azure DevOps began when Microsoft acquired InRelease in 2013. Most TFS users found InRelease limited and confusing, and they pushed Microsoft to look at other solutions, including Octopus Deploy, as examples of how release management could be done better. In 2015, Microsoft rebuilt the release management aspects of TFS (then VSTS at the time) on the same core as their new build platform.

In 2018, Microsoft acquired GitHub, and recently Microsoft's focus seems to be moving to GitHub Actions, with a number of key people involved in Azure DevOps moving over to GitHub. While we expect Azure DevOps to be supported for a long time, it's not clear how the roadmap will evolve or how much Microsoft will continue to invest in it.

About Octopus Deploy

Octopus Deploy is a best-in-class platform for release management, deployment automation, and operations runbook automation.

Unlike Azure DevOps, Octopus doesn't provide bug tracking, build automation, or source control. We're focused on building software that does a few things very well and integrating well with other best-in-class tooling.

Octopus Deploy is an independent software vendor. It was founded in 2011 and is bootstrapped, conservatively managed, and profitable. Octopus Deploy's goal is to build the most powerful and capable solution for release management, deployment, and operations automation. Learn more about our company.

Highlights & key differences

While there are many differences between Octopus Deploy and the pipelines/release management aspects of Azure DevOps, the table below summarizes the key differences.

Azure DevOps Octopus Deploy
Bug tracking, source control, build/CI automation Octopus Deploy does not attempt to do any of these, as teams already have many solutions to pick from. You can use Azure DevOps for these features, and then use Octopus for release management, deployments, and operations. Alternatively, you can combine other best-in-class solutions with Octopus for the ultimate CI/CD pipeline.
Release management Both Azure DevOps and Octopus Deploy can model environments like dev, staging, and production, and both can model approvals and permissions around who can deploy to each.
Variable management Variables can store API keys, connection strings, file paths, passwords, and other settings that vary during a deployment. Both Octopus and Azure DevOps release pipelines can model variables. Variables in Azure DevOps can only be scoped by environments. Variables in Octopus are much more powerful - they can be scoped to individual targets, steps, and can be shared between projects.
Operations automation DevOps teams don't just need to automate deployments, they also need to automate a variety of emergency and routine tasks. This might mean updating certificates, disaster recovery, or ad-hoc management tasks. Runbooks makes this possible in Octopus.

Octopus Deploy is the only release management tool that can also be used by operations teams, giving teams a unified platform for DevOps automation. Despite the name, Azure DevOps doesn't actually automate the ops side of DevOps; teams need to find another solution.
Multi-tenancy If you deploy a copy of your software for every customer that signs up, you might find yourself with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of deployment pipelines. Octopus is the only release automation server with first-class multi-tenancy support, letting you deploy to a single customer or a group without duplication. With Azure DevOps, you need to duplicate your release definitions for every customer.
Configuration as code Azure DevOps has YAML support for Pipelines, but this is primarily builds. The Releases feature in Azure DevOps does not support YAML, and it does not appear to be on Microsoft's roadmap. Multi-stage pipelines can be used in scenarios where "every commit goes to production", but it loses all the release management capabilities of Azure DevOps.

We are working on Configuration as Code support in Octopus Deploy, which will use the HCL language and store your deployment process and variables in Git. A key difference, however, is that the UI will still work in Octopus. Many developers who start using YAML in Azure DevOps find it both a blessing and a curse - they want the source control aspects, but writing YAML is difficult, and it's hard for the team to understand how the deployment works. We think our approach brings the best of both worlds.
Not for release management.
Coming next, with full UI support!
Cloud/PaaS support Azure DevOps natively supports Azure, with marketplace extensions available for AWS and Google Cloud. Octopus natively supports Azure and AWS, with support for Kubernetes in Google Cloud, and full GCP support coming soon.
On-premises, cloud VM/IaaS support. If you run your own VM's in the cloud or on premises, there aren't a lot of options native to Azure DevOps. The supported IIS steps require WinRM/WebDeploy, which limits the types of networks (e.g., same AD domain) you can authenticate on. Octopus Deploy has the most powerful on-premises support, with a smart agent called the Tentacle, and a lot of networking options.

Don't repeat yourself

When designing your deployment process, there's a fundamental difference between Octopus and Azure DevOps. In Azure DevOps release definitions, each environment has its own deployment process.

  • The process in the development environment can be simple.
  • The QA process could be very different.
  • A new pipeline is required to support deploying directly to pre-production and production.

In our opinion, this can lead to bugs because it is easy to forget to apply a change to each environment. It also encourages bad practices that lead to production deployment failures.

Because each stage in Azure DevOps gets its own set of steps, it's easy for teams to forget to change a setting in each stage, or to make a mistake. Here, the Test stage is set up correctly, so deployments each day to the test environment succeed. But the Production stage has a typo - this will only be picked up at production deployment time.

Teams deploy to production less often. You might want to deploy to Dev on every commit, Test a few times a day, and Production once or twice a week. Of course, failed Dev deployments are no big deal, while a failed Production deployment can be a disaster. When it's time to deploy to production, you really don't want this to be the first time in a week that the deployment process has been tested.

In Octopus, there's one deployment process per project, and while there are some escape hatches, Octopus pushes you to make your Dev, Test, and Production deployments as similar as possible . This means that when you're finally ready to deploy to production, the same deployment process has already run many times before.

Runbooks

In Octopus you have a single deployment process that runs for all environments for the project. You can make some steps specific to an environment (e.g., approvals being Production-only), but generally, Octopus is opinionated and pushes you to keep them as similar as you can.

While this may take some getting used to, the end result is that production deployments nearly always succeed - because the exact same deployment process already ran when you deployed to Dev and Test. It's much harder to forget to keep production and pre-production deployments in sync.

Runbooks: automation for Ops too

Modern operations teams often need to automate a huge variety of tasks:

  • Routine operations, especially for tasks that don't happen very frequently. For example:
    • Backing up and testing the restore of databases.
    • Requesting and updating SSL certificates.
    • Resetting API keys or rotating passwords.
    • Provisioning or deprovisioning infrastructure.
    • Suspending or taking applications offline for maintenance.
    • Updating a test environment with fresh, sanitized production data.
  • Emergency operations, such as tasks you might need to perform at 3 AM after an alert is raised.
    • Failing over to a disaster recovery site, and then back to the main site.
    • Restarting a set of applications, perhaps in a specific order.
    • Restarting a web application that experiences a periodic memory leak that is yet to be resolved.

Whether you use Octopus or Azure DevOps for releases, you'll likely need to tell your release management solution a whole lot of things:

  • Access to your Azure/AWS subscriptions.
  • The various servers, cloud targets, and other resources your software runs on.
  • Certificates and API keys for various other platforms you use.
  • Database and other credentials for schema updates.
  • Permissions and controls around who can deploy.

If you're going to set all of this up for deployments, you should be able to use it for other automation tasks too.

In addition to automating deployments, Octopus also provides first-class support for Runbooks, which can be used to automate these routine and emergency operations tasks. Runbooks in Octopus belong to the same project as your deployment process, and they have access to the same environments, variables, certificates, and everything else. It's the closest thing to a complete DevOps automation platform.

Runbooks

Runbooks in Octopus Deploy can be used to automate routine tasks from the same platform.

Despite the name, Azure DevOps has no ability to automate operations tasks that are not deployments. Microsoft's recommendation is to use Azure Automation, another solution. Nothing is synchronized between them, so you'll end up duplicating all of this configuration, with no source of truth. The silo between Dev and Ops will remain, each using their own automation solution.

Configuration as codecoming soon

Octopus and Azure DevOps Releases use a UI to define the individual steps for deployments. Most developers on a team aren't experts in build/deployment automation, and co-ordinating complex deployments across many machines doesn't lend itself to a scripting language. The UI makes it easy for people - especially those who didn't author the original deployment - to figure out what is going on.

Starting in 2018, Azure DevOps Pipelines added support for writing build/CI pipelines in YAML. In fact, for builds, the UI-driven way of automating builds has been renamed "Classic Pipelines", a signal that YAML is the future.

Whether you like the choice of YAML or not, you'll probably agree Configuration as Code is a good idea. So you might be surprised to learn that Releases in Azure DevOps still use the "Classic" UI-driven solution - there's no YAML support for releases. Microsoft originally indicated it would happen, but so far it hasn't, and it's not on their public roadmap.

It seems as though Releases (and Release Management) in Azure DevOps has been ignored for YAML, in favor of "multi-stage Pipelines" which use YAML. However, multi-stage pipelines assume that the entire pipeline will execute (unless there's a failure) all the way, for every commit. This makes sense if you want every commit to go to production as soon as it's built, but not if you have any kind of approval process (e.g., a QA team), or designated times when deployment is safe.

The summary is, in Azure DevOps, you can use YAML, or you can use release management, but not both. And there's nothing on the roadmap suggesting Release Management will get YAML support.

At Octopus Deploy we're working on Configuration as Code support for deployment processes. However, we're taking a different view:

  • We use HCL rather than YAML.
  • We support any Git repository, and you can branch and edit your process directly within Octopus.
  • The UI works for editing, and you don't have to choose between having version control or having a tool that's easy to use.

Here it is in action:

Configuration as Code in Octopus

First-class multi-tenancy

If you deploy a copy of your software for every customer that signs up, you might find yourself with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of deployment pipelines.

Octopus is the only release management & deployment automation solution with first-class multi-tenancy support, letting you manage deployments to a single customer or a group without duplication. With Azure DevOps, you need to duplicate your release definitions for every customer.

Multi-tenancy is particularly suited to scenarios like:

  • White-labeled software.
  • SaaS software where every customer gets their own database.
  • Managed services.
  • Head-office deployments to restaurants, retail stores, and more.

Learn more about Multi-Tenant deployments

First-class multi-tenancy in Octopus
Jeffrey Palermo from ClearMeasure

“Octopus Deploy is the most sophisticated release management solution. It is the broadest, and the deepest deployment tool for any kind of application on the Microsoft platform.”

Jeffrey Palermo, Microsoft MVP & Chief Architect of Clear Measure
Host of the Azure DevOps Podcast

Use Octopus Deploy with Azure DevOps

Octopus with Azure DevOps can be a very powerful combination. With Azure DevOps, you get source control, build/CI, and bug tracking. With Octopus, you get the most powerful release management, deployment and runbook automation capabilities. See the diagram below for an overview of how they work together:

Git C# C# C# TeamCity Artifactory create release DEV TEST PRODUCTION Release 1.1

Octopus Deploy Integration for Azure DevOps

Push packages, create releases, and trigger deployments from Azure DevOps Pipelines with our official extension.

Connect your Azure DevOps dashboard to Octopus

Connect your Azure DevOps dashboard to Octopus, and use our dashboard widget to display the status of your Octopus deployments all from the comfort of your project dashboard.

Complete your build and push your packages with ease

Complete your build, test, and package workflow by using the Push Packages to Octopus task. There is the option to select which Octopus instance to push the package to, replace packages, and add additional arguments.

Octopus integrates fully with Azure DevOps

All the tasks you need to perform a deployment in Octopus are available in Azure DevOps. Each task provides a number of options, including which instance to deploy to and options for channels and tenanted deployments.

Add work items and comments in your Azure DevOps release which can be viewed inside the release summary of your Octopus instance

Create transparency and traceability by adding work items and comments when creating a release in Azure DevOps. The work items and comments can be viewed in the release summary in your Octopus instance.

Syncretically take advantage of full Azure DevOps release management but with the added benefit of everything there is to love about Octopus

The Octopus tasks can be called either directly from Team Build or from Pipelines within Azure DevOps. This makes it possible to use Azure Pipelines for high-level release approvals, but gets all the benefits of Octopus (multi-tenant deployments, on-premises deployments, etc.) at deployment time.