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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Technology Transfer

The mainframe computer in Bob Bottomley’s workspace whirred and hummed, and its metal surface radiated such intense heat that the Evansville computer operator occasionally warmed sandwiches on it. By today’s technological standards, the room-encompassing IBM 360 mainframe computer was laughable. But it fascinated a young David Bottomley, who often visited his father at work with his mother, Janis. “I was impressed by the technology,” Bottomley recalls, “and the size of it.”

Bottomley — now vice president of business solutions at Information Technology Architects — never imagined that nearly three decades later, his career would take him back to the same location where his father worked: the Hulman Building, a historic 10-story structure at the corner of Fourth and Sycamore streets. Built in 1929 for the Central Union Bank, the Art Deco building has been likened to New York’s Empire State Building. After the bank collapsed during the Great Depression, Terre Haute, Ind., business tycoon and philanthropist Tony Hulman purchased the building. (He later became internationally known as the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)

In April, ITA marks one year in its new Downtown location. The company’s data center occupies the former Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company computer room on the second floor, where Bottomley’s father worked for nearly four decades before retiring in 2006. (SIGECO was a subsidiary of Sigcorp, Inc., which merged with Indiana Energy in 2000 to form Vectren). The spacious third-floor office suites, now workspaces for approximately 30 ITA employees, housed Vectren executives before the utility provider moved to its new corporate headquarters on the Riverfront in 2005.

Bottomley says the visits to his father’s workplace inspired his own pursuit of an IT career. So did the personal computer he received as a childhood Christmas gift. Bottomley devoted hours to learning his way around a PC, and by age 12, the self-taught computer whiz was fixing family and friends’ computers. During his time at Mount Vernon Senior High School, he earned a summer job at Pinnacle Computer Services, where he worked on numerous corporate networks.

Bottomley put his business savvy to work in 1997: As a 19-year-old, he raised more than $100,000 in capital and founded a local Internet service provider, Maverick Computer Services, Inc. Three years later, he sold the company to a Canadian firm; after stints as a systems administrator and network engineer at various Evansville companies, he joined ITA in 2007 to lead the company’s new business solutions division.

ITA was founded in 1996 as a consulting firm specializing in the healthcare field. The Evansville-headquartered company has managed systems integration projects for a luminous list of hundreds of clients including NASA, aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, Harvard Medical School, and the ministries of health of Australia and New Zealand. In a third-floor hallway of the Hulman Building hangs a map covered in pins that represent the geographic locations of ITA’s clients.

For years, ITA’s headquarters was in the basement of president and CEO Keith Barnett. “I hate to say ‘basement,’” Bottomley says with a laugh. “It was a really nice basement.” Even through the economic downturn, ITA’s business continued to boom. As the company hired more employees and outgrew its subterranean space, leaders eyed Downtown Evansville for a new office and data center.

Early last year, Bottomley met with a client in the Curtis Building, which had housed Maverick Computer Services a decade earlier. He left his business card with a tenant and soon received a call from Ed Curtis, the St. Louis-based developer who owns Downtown properties including the Curtis Building and the Hulman Building. Curtis called Bottomley to catch up, and Bottomley mentioned that his company was hunting for a suitable new space. “What are you doing with the old SIGECO room?” he asked. “Nothing,” he remembers Curtis replying. “We can’t figure out what to do with it.”

Bottomley realized the space would be perfect for ITA. The cost of building a new data center of a similar size would have stretched into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and numerous components of a data center already were in place: raised floors, a precision HVAC unit, and a fire protection system. Also, “the Hulman Building was built like a fortress,” says Bottomley, “with steel reinforced concrete walls and a foundation down to bedrock.” The building’s sturdiness made it resistant to natural disasters: a reliable setting for ITA’s main infrastructure and data center co-location services for clients.

Although all of the existing equipment has been updated and modern infrastructure added, Bottomley admits that running a technology-based business in a historic building isn’t without challenges. To run cables, Chet Zuber, ITA data center/infrastructure manager, has drilled through the concrete and steel walls. The solid structure is one of the few aspects of the space that remains unaltered since Bob Bottomley’s days working on the IBM mainframe computer. “Everything has changed,” says his son, who remembers the sense of awe kindled by his childhood visits to his father’s workspace. “The technology has progressed so much further — it’s almost like apples and oranges.”

For more information, visit www.intear.com

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