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I've tried the cloudera VM image, that comes pre-configured with everything needed (comes with CentOS 5.8 ) and for the simple tests it allowed the execution of mapreduce jobs.
Experience tells me that it can be good to "build" your own Linux distro if you are intending to deploy it on a massive scale. Reason for this is that you can start with a very very bare minimum installation and add only the functions and features to it you really need. If you use a standard distro you most likely will get all kinds of functions and processes you do not need and who all do take some of your resources.
So, just some food for thought. :-)