The talented centre began his senior career with Wallace High School before moving onto Queen's University in Belfast. His skills were clear to see an early age and it was not long before he was snapped up by Ulster, who made him part of their Academy structure in 2007 having already represented Ireland at Under-18 and Under-19 levels.
However, it was the 2008-09 season that proved the real breakthrough season for the Lisburn-born back who was given his first senior Ulster cap against Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup. He subsequently went on to establish himself in the side for the rest of the season, which culminated in a call-up to the Ireland squad for the summer tour of USA and Canada, where he won two senior caps.
Since his debut, Whitten has featured consistently for Ulster making 61 appearances to date, scoring six tries for the Irish province. However, a new challenge in English rugby's top flight awaits him at Sandy Park next season and it is one the player himself admits he is relishing.
"Obviously I'm delighted with the move," he said. "It's going to be a new challenge in a tough environment for me, but it's one I am very much looking forward too.
"I was very impressed with the facilities at Exeter when I came over and also by all the people who seemed very friendly and made me feel very welcome. Testing myself in the Premiership is going to be great because it's a very tough league and every week the challenge is there for you to take on."
Ahead of his move, Whitten wasted little time in finding out more about his new club, who meet Stade Francais in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final at Stade Charlety on Thursday, 5 April, as he quizzed Ulster team-mates Dan Tuohy and Lewis Stevenson, both of whom previously played for the Chiefs.
"I spoke to both Dan and Lewis and they said lots of great things about the club. Also a few of the guys here played for the Irish Wolfhounds over there the other week and said how impressed they were by the place. As I said, I liked what I saw as well and the facilities look great. All I've heard is real positives about the place, so I'm really looking forward to the challenge."
One man delighted to have Whitten on board is coach Baxter, who commented: "He's become available to have a look at and Ali and myself sat down and had a good look at a few of his games. He's played the last three or four games, starting on the wing or in the centre, and we do quite like backs who can play in more than one position. It works in the way we want to play with the back line we've got.
"Ian's a big, strong guy but he's also quick and powerful. It's nice that he's young and still developing as a player. He's got a lot of good rugby ahead of him, he's probably still developing physically and his handling and kicking game is still improving, which is something we want to work on with all our players."