It’s been three decades since Joel Deuterman founded Velocity Network (VNET), then known as SOFTEK, by selling custom computers out of his home in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Yet, looking back, it was a pivotal moment for the future of information technology services in northwest Pennsylvania. It was the creation of the region’s leading Internet, business technologies and voice services provider.
“At that time, I was the only employee, so there was no one else to manage, and no one else to be responsible for,” says Deuterman, VNET’s president and chief executive officer. “It’s been a huge accomplishment to mark 30 years. Today, we have 75 employees and a robust line of IT services; and it’s all due to our clients’ trust in us.”
That trust was certainly put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic when VNET’s professional support teams, hardware solutions and IT services were all vital in keeping VNET clients operational. “Erie is unique to have a VNET in their midst,” says Deuterman. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been spinning up hundreds of remote clients, and we’ll probably continue to do that for quite some time.”
According to VNET’s Chief Operating Officer Brad Wiertel, at the height of the pandemic crisis, the company, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, had its support ticket volume increase by nearly 60 percent. Most of those were organizations seeking remote support for home computers and laptops to connect to work devices. “Over the years, we’ve had numerous employees remote in from home. That’s how we provide a lot of our technical support,” says Wiertel. “It’s now essential in every industry, and no one’s immune. From education, medical and legal to manufacturing, everyone has gone remote. We’ve been keeping these businesses running because if they can’t get logged in, they can’t print checks, they can’t run payroll, they can’t provide products and services. In short, they are effectively shut down.”
“Our team always does whatever is needed to rally around our clients and make sure that their business has as little impact as possible, thus ensuring the client can operate the business as normal,” adds Matt Wiertel, VNET’s director of Sales and Marketing. “We’re kind of that invisible hand in the background making sure everything is working.”
The VNET Difference
Whether it is desktop or server infrastructure, virtual private network licenses for remote work, advanced cybersecurity offerings, Office 365 and Teams solutions, VoIP business phone systems or fiber optic bandwidth, VNET has a proud history of always responding to its clients’ ever evolving IT needs.
From starting out as a one-man operation to today’s 75-person firm, VNET has taken strategic steps to ensure its reliability and viability for the long term. This began with its initial home-based business on East 6th Street, evolving into its first storefront location on West 8th Street, and subsequent relocation to its 5,400-square-foot office in the Yorktown Centre. That is where the firm launched its game-changing $9.95 dial-up service Velocity. Net. “Our margins were razor-thin back then,” recalls Deuterman, “but from 1996 to 2003, we were able to grow our subscriber count to 15,000; it was amazing.”
Another critical juncture in VNET’s history was its shift from a break/fix approach to a managed IT services model, now known as TITAN, adds VNET Marketing Specialist Michael Corbett. Clients pay a fixed cost, allowing VNET to provide technology support to keep operations running at a top level — a white glove, high-touch service that VNET clients have come to expect from the firm.
“Through the TITAN program, VNET is essentially our IT Department,” explains Arthur Martinucci, a partner at The Quinn Law Firm in Erie. “They maintain and support our computers, they monitor our network for performance and security, and they troubleshoot problems for us, day and night. With the help desk always available, we also have a dedicated project manager who is routinely onsite to help with day-to-day issues and comes in to deal with any issues that can’t be handled remotely. We typically measure VNET’s response to any issues we might encounter in terms of minutes, not hours.”
Anthony Darden, vice president of IT at Caplugs in Erie, has worked with VNET alongside the company’s own IT team. “VNET goes the extra mile for its clients, and this is what distinguishes a vendor from a partner,” he says. “Whether it’s 8 a.m. or 2 a.m., Monday or Sunday, a Wednesday in March or Christmas Day, they are there for us if we need them. They are a true partner to Caplugs and the Gold Standard for IT support companies.”
Darden describes the service that VNET provides his team as unparalleled. “They know our employees by name, who needs extra attention when a ticket is sent in, and they maintain a vast database of our historical tickets, including Caplugs-specific support documents. By doing all of this, VNET helps quicken the time to resolution,” he explains. “Each year, we hold a meeting between both our teams to understand what worked well that year, what could be improved on, what projects will need support in the upcoming year, etc. They are always looking for ways to improve upon the already excellent service they give us.”
Taking its product offerings to the next level is VNET Fiber, the company’s next-generation fiber optic network with local service and support to homes and businesses throughout Erie County. The high bandwidth, low latency VNET Fiber allows for unmatched data networking (faster access to social media, music streaming and media downloads) and, most importantly, telecommuting.
“Acquiring that network, now 10 years ago, we’ve increased its size by 400 percent, primarily on the commercial side. But, in the coming years, our residential fiber clients will grow, probably by a factor of five,” explains Deuterman. “Owning the fiber, controlling the fiber as we do from end to end, guarantees client satisfaction. It will support whatever services the client puts upon it, be it their voice, video, remote connections and offsite data storage, which usually can’t be done successfully on a copper network.”
With 100-percent local ownership and operations, VNET has made investments to expand its fiber optic network into areas where national firms have been unwilling to provide service. “So, companies located in areas with little or no options for Internet are our sweet spot,” says Matt Wiertel. “VNET can come up with a plan to assist that particular business, which oftentimes is not possible using a national provider.”
For the residential side of VNET Fiber, which was launched in 2017, the
company continues to expand its service territory and offerings. In fact, based on the evolving needs of its clients, VNET is launching two new residential focused offerings in 2020. As more homes require reliable and fast Wi-Fi to take advantage of VNET’s Gigabit fiber optic service, VNET has started deploying an advanced Wi-Fi platform that provides unparalleled speeds over Wi-Fi and offers a complete suite of cybersecurity and parental control features. With the rapid adoption of streaming services, VNET is also launching a new video platform, complete with cloud DVR capabilities, compatible with Amazon Firesticks, Apple TV and other similar devices.
As an added benefit, VNET Fiber has its own construction crews for building and fiber repairs. This means they do not need to rely on third-party vendors.
“When you are speaking infrastructure-wise — our skills and years of experience — we simply have no equal,” notes Brad Wiertel. “We’re able to guarantee the client’s outcome and satisfaction because we control their experience end to end. Through us, they know that they have hardware that has been properly spec’d and configured. They also have security in place that protects not just their home PC, but also their office PCs and their entire network.”
A New Headquarters
VNET is a story of success and tremendous impact. The firm has contributed to not only the region’s technological transformation but its downtown resurgence, as well. The most visible example is VNET’s $8.5 million investment in its new headquarters at the former Rothrock building located at 121 West 10th Street in downtown Erie.
According to Deuterman, the move to the new offices was three years in the making, but the search began nearly a decade ago. The years-long process involved more than 30 potential sites before finally landing on the 10th Street locale. With low-interest loans from the City of Erie, Corry Redevelopment Authority and the state, VNET turned to ERIEBANK to get the financing in place to renovate and transform the building into its present “showcase of technology,” with Data Center, training areas and state-of-the- art technologies.
“We designed the headquarters to enhance the mindshare that VNET provides to all of our clients,” says Deuterman. “To empower that mindshare, we cut a hole in every floor, so we have an essential staircase for drop-in meetings. We devoted the entire first floor to our open, collaborative space, and so far that is paying big dividends. The employees will meet there for coffee in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, or a beer after work, thus providing a peer-to-peer information transfer amongst all VNET members.”VNET’s entire headquarters is outfitted with smart building features such as Power over Ethernet (PoE) lighting, advanced video conferencing, a cloud-based visitor management system and sound masking, just to name a few.
“Usually when people think IT, they think workstations, laptops, wireless, your average run-of-the-mill things,” adds Matt Wiertel. “But it extends to so many other avenues when it comes to IT.”
Velocity Network is a diversified technology firm that has succeeded by
taking risks and looking ahead. Taking what the team has learned from the 2020 pandemic crisis, and the anticipated impact on our new economy, VNET is already working on its next chapter.
“What we have done for our clients during this time is what I predict we will be doing for not just our existing client base, but for many new clients for months and possibly years to come,” explains Deuterman. “We’ll be deploying the type of robust IT hardware and security solutions that everyone relies on, not just for their business, but now for their home-based business, as well. I predict much more of what we have done so far; spinning up remote offices that function exactly as the main office does; and, a quintupling of fiber to the home.”
In the spirit of “We’re all in this together,” Deuterman says that has been VNET’s business approach all along. “We treat our clients the way we would want to be treated, and when you approach every situation with measured strategic thinking, empathy and experience, solutions will present themselves. I’m happy that we know ‘we are all in this together,’ ” he says. “Our clients are safe to trust and rely upon us for the next 30 years and beyond.”