Say f.e. 30.000 users in a course which can be typical for wide audience MOOC applications... and just sending a course news there.
I have a practical case of this situation with 8000 registered users in a knowledge review volume, and load for advising all members is clearly noticeable (receiving mail sent notification as admin for a big while when processing). This is just for one single course !, say we play hundred of them !
I have a plan to reduce drastically such load by customizing a forum to only send to "discussion subscribers". This would keep most discussions on an interative web mode (read and answer) and let people just cherry pick some message they would like to track by mail.
I was just asking myself how moodle.org xas proceeding with general developer/support forums which are actually crowded...
i found also this trick of adding a special cluster for cron processing, although it will also load common database engine.