When people start to get into the workflow automation processes that are offered on the Microsoft stack, there are questions that they commonly have. For one, why does Microsoft have two platforms to do the same thing? And if they’re not the same, what is the difference between Power Automate and Azure Logic Apps?
From a visual and functional perspective, there isn’t a big difference. They’re both web-based workflow platforms. They both use a visual, web-based designer to allow even non-programmers the ability to easily create those workflows. And they mostly share a common list of more than 800 connectors to internal and external platforms, with only a little bit of variation. So where does the difference lie? Well, the biggest difference between the two is the focus.
Power Automate Overview
Power Automate is targeted at end users, allowing them the ability to create workflows that will be of benefit to their own personal work processes. Yes, they can share those workflows and use the workflows shared with them. But in the end, the focus is on personal workflows that run relatively infrequently.
Power Automate is designed around the individual end user in a business environment setting. It has its own web interface at make.powerautomate.com, not tied to any other environment or platform. And the features of that site revolve around that individual user. It’s meant for Jill in Accounting, or Anthony in Sales, to be able to create workflows that might run a few times a day or week. It’s meant for the kind of workflows that are useful but don’t need to do a whole lot. It’s not intended for high-performance, complex workflows. And the product is licensed and supported as such. You pay per user/per month, whether that user runs 1 workflow, or 500.
Power Automate is also tied to a shared environment. You can’t throw more horsepower at it if you need more performance or throughput. You get what you get. And on occasion what you get can sometimes struggle a little. I have seen occasions where my flows just seem to be sluggish for no apparent reason. It’s not often, but when it does, all you can do is just sit and wait for it to resolve itself.
Logic Apps Overview
Azure Logic Apps, on the other hand, is targeted at the end high, corporate IT DevOps pros and developers. It’s highly integrated into the Azure infrastructure and is intended for high volume, corporate processes, and intensive workflows. Like most Azure resources, its design, operation, and pricing are consumption-based. You pay for what you use. Logic Apps also have dedicated, scalable resources that you can scale as needed to handle the workload you need to throw at it.
Functionality-wise, there are a few differences. Let’s start with connectors. Overall, the vast majority of connectors are shared between both systems, but there are a few minor differences. Logic Apps are closely tied to Azure and as such, have a few connectors that aren’t available to Power Automate around certain integrations. Power Automate, on the other hand, has a few connectors and features around approval processes that aren’t available to Logic Apps.
The biggest difference between the two lies in the concept of premium connectors. In Power Automate, the connectors you have available are controlled by the license you have. The list of connectors for the free Power Automate license or the license included with other licenses like Dynamics or Microsoft 365 is a fairly short list. To get access to the full list of connectors, including the premium and custom connectors, you have to pay for one of the higher-tier Power Automate licenses.
With Logic Apps, it’s important to remember that the pricing is consumption-based. So how does this relate to connectors? Well, while Power Automate gives you all the standard connectors at one tier and the premium connectors at a higher cost tier, with Logic Apps, what that means is that for each call to a remote service via a connector, you pay a certain price. At the time I write this, standard connectors are charged at $0.000125 per call and the premium connectors (called enterprise connectors in Logic Apps) are charged at $0.001 per call. So basically you get 8 standard calls for the price of 1 premium call. But at a tenth of a penny per call, even the enterprise connectors are fairly cheap.
Development and Monitoring
The next key difference is that in addition to the web-based designer that the two have in common, Logic Apps allows you to design and develop your workflows in Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code, as part of an Azure project. This gives you the advantage of being able to maintain your workflows in source control, something you can’t easily do in Power Automate. Your only option with Power Automate is to manually import/export workflows and save them to a repo yourself.
Another big difference between the two is that because Logic Apps are tied into Azure, you get full support for everything that entails, such as support for Azure Monitor, App Insights, automated testing, alerting, policy enforcement, DevOps, and so forth. None of that is available to you in Power Automate. If something goes wrong in a logic app, you can get immediate notifications. With Power Automate, if a flow fails, you’ll get an email… eventually… sometimes…
With Power Automate, everything is tied to the user account that is running the flow. All of the other credentials that are used for the various connectors are tied to that account. If that account has issues, gets deactivated, or is deleted, everything stops. Logic Apps, on the other hand, can be tied to managed identities. You have full support for Role-based authentication (RBAC), Key Vault, app credentials, and so forth, just as you do with most other Azure-based resources. This lets a logic app run as an application, and not as a user. No password is needed if you don’t want it to operate that way. Security is much tighter and improved.
Power Automate Desktop
There are a handful of other areas where Power Automate offers features that aren’t directly available for Logic Apps. The first one is Power Automate Desktop–also known as RPA for Remote Process Automation. RPA is an extension of Power Automate that you can install on a local or virtual machine to allow Power Automate to run certain types of workflows on your local network. This is often used to automate legacy software to do something repetitively. Say, for instance, you have a legacy terminal app that is used to enter data into some old system. RPA can be used to automate that data entry process, interacting with the software as if it were a person sitting there at a keyboard typing. Or maybe you have some batch file that has to run on some old machine on a regular basis.
There are a bunch of different uses for RPA. The biggest problem I have with it is that it still requires a connection to the cloud Power Automate environment and the flows have to be kicked off from there. It also requires an additional license cost to use it. That said, it can come in handy for dealing with some of those legacy apps that you only still have around because you don’t have another alternative.
The other big feature with Power Automate that Logic Apps doesn’t offer is AI Builder. AI Builder is a set of AI features powered by Azure Cognitive Services that are pre-configured to be easily implemented into flows. Yes, you can connect to Cognitive Services from Logic Apps, but AI Builder has done a bunch of the legwork for you that you would have to set up and manually configure yourself to implement it in Logic Apps. Some of the built-in features include object recognition, language recognition, document data extraction, sentiment analysis, extracting text from images, and so forth. One really great example is setting up a workflow to automatically parse and extract data from invoices to be automatically loaded into your ERP system. All without having to lift a finger. AI Builder does require an additional license cost on top of the normal Power Automate license. But overall, it’s an outstanding set of entry-level AI features that are ready (or almost ready) to go out of the box for use in your workflows.
So, while Power Automate and Logic Apps do have quite a bit of overlap and share a mostly common set of core components, the decision about which to use really comes down to the use cases. Power Automate is primarily targeted at automating workflows for your front-line and office workers, or really for any workflow that an individual might want to automate for themselves.
And Logic Apps are targeted at high-end, heavy-duty workflows, the kind of workflows that run your company from an IT or DevOps perspective. Or really any workflow process where you might need to scale to massive proportions. Or where you need to make use of things like managed identities or Key Vault, and you need that tight integration with Azure.
Each has its role and place in the world of workflow automation. And each does an outstanding job with the role that defines it. You really can’t go wrong with either. If you’re trying to determine which would better serve your purpose for a particular workflow, then taking a moment or two of thought will serve you well. What features do you need? What do you expect the typical volume to be? Have you already invested time and effort in one or the other? Do you need the integration with Azure? With a little ground work and cost comparison, you’ll find the right solution for you.
Husband, father, gamer, developer, manager, writer, creative, blogger, model railroader, Buckeyes fan