Azure CLI vs PowerShell vs ARM vs Bicep

A key component of DevSecOps is infrastructure-as-code, and if you are using Azure there are multiple ways to specify what you want.

Microsoft provides Azure PowerShell, the Azure CLI, as well as both Azure Resource Manager (ARM) and the newer Bicep templates. There are also third party (and cross-cloud) solutions such as Terraform and Pulumi.

I the past I have been leaning towards Azure CLI, as I found ARM templates a bit cumbersome, plus my previous experience with migrations vs desired state for database deployments. With Bicep being promoted as a lighter weight alternative I thought I would compare the Microsoft alternatives.

Having now revisited the options, I still prefer scripting, but think I will switch more to PowerShell, particularly as it makes it easier to follow to the tagging, and naming, guidelines.

My recommendations:

  • For incremental development or changing environments, use Azure PowerShell scripts. They allow easy manipulation of parameters, and a migration/scripted approach can handle changes that a desired state/template approach can not.
    • If you are already heavily invested in an alternative scripting system, e.g. Bash, then Azure CLI would be easier to use.
  • If you have relatively stable infrastructure, such as a preset development environment or sample/demo code, that you want to repeatedly tear down and then recreate the same, then Bicep offers a nicer syntax than raw ARM templates. The deployments are viewable in the Azure portal, but templates do have some limitations compared to scripting.
  • In either case, follow the Azure Cloud Adoption Framework naming guidelines, allowing for unique global resources, as well as the associated tagging guidelines.

Example code is available on Github at https://github.com/sgryphon/azure-deployment-examples

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