In the past couple of years, Oracle has dominated M&A news. In 2008, it was the US$8.5 billion acquisition of BEA Systems. In 2009, it was the acquisition of Sun Microsystems in a deal valued at $5.6 billion.

In 2010, though, Oracle was somewhat quieter (if you call spending $1 billion on e-commerce software creator Art Technology Group quiet), and the late M&A bombshell went to Attachmate. The company in late November announced it was acquiring Novell for $2.2 billion. Further, Novell said it would sell some of its intellectual property assets to a Microsoft-created entity, CPTN Holdings, for $450 million in cash.

The year was marked by a steady stream of smaller-value deals, as the U.S. recession was officially declared at an end and companies were looking to grow more quickly, according to analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers. It sees cloud platforms and services, security, and virtualization as leading drivers of M&A activity for the early part of 2011.

As for 2010, IBM and HP both had busy years, with HP purchasing smartphone maker Palm for $1.2 billion in July, then picking up security software providers ArcSight ($1.5 billion) and Fortify Software (terms were not disclosed), as well as data storage provider 3Par for $2.07 billion after a bidding war with Dell.

Meanwhile, IBM’s acquisition of data management company Netezza for $1.7 billion was Big Blue’s big pickup in 2010, followed closely by its purchase of Sterling Commerce for $1.4 billion. Along with that announcement, IBM said it will spend up to $20 billion on acquisitions over the next five years.

Other notable deals in 2010 included VMware’s February acquisition of software and expertise from EMC’s Ionix IT management business for $200 million in cash.

In May, productivity application provider SAP announced the acquisition of venerable database company Sybase for $5.8 billion in cash, a move seen by some as SAP’s answer to Oracle’s growth-through-acquisition strategy.