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There are quite a few prerequisites for a SharePoint 2010 install. These include the Windows Identity Foundation (codenamed 'Geneva'), a SQL Server database and the Microsoft Sync Framework.
There are only two options for the SharePoint 2010 installer: a standalone single-server instance or as part of a farm of servers. A server farm allows you to scale out a SharePoint system, as well as providing redundancy and load balancing.
Once SharePoint 2010 has been installed, a configuration wizard automates the setup process, creating SharePoint's content and configuration databases, as well as an initial site to get users started.